By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Of all the hot-button issues surrounding President Obama and the Democrats' effort to change healthcare, the idea of including illegal immigrants in the coverage may be the hottest.
It's an issue that moves voters, including independents, and not, as some of the president's supporters have taken to suggesting, because of some sort of inherent or even overt racism. Americans object to illegal immigrants receiving services from the government because, in their taxpaying minds, people who are here illegally are getting a free ride that everyone else has to work harder and pay more in taxes to provide.
In his speech to a joint session of Congress, Obama denied that the plan he envisioned—but conveniently has yet to set to paper—would not allow illegal immigrants to participate, meaning the American people wouldn't have to pay for their healthcare. Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina called the president out on it—and was admonished for doing so by the House, generally along party lines. To the television networks that have covered the story, this makes Obama the hero and Wilson the goat.
Not so fast.
It may be that Obama's eventual plan for healthcare reform won't pay the medical expenses of immigrants here in the United States illegally—but that's because he may also have a not-so-secret plan to make them all citizens.
As Stephen Dinan writes in Friday's Washington Times, the president is saying the healthcare crisis among illegal immigrants is so severe that it constitutes a compelling reason to legalize them and ensure they eventually can have access to healthcare. "Even though I do not believe we can extend coverage to those who are here illegally, I also don't simply believe we can simply ignore the fact that our immigration system is broken," Obama told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in a speech on Wednesday. "That's why I strongly support making sure folks who are here legally have access to affordable, quality health insurance under this plan, just like everybody else."
"If anything," Obama said of the need to reform healthcare in America, "this debate underscores the necessity of passing comprehensive immigration reform and resolving the issue of 12 million undocumented people living and working in this country once and for all."
So it turns out that Obama's explanation to Congress and the country about illegal immigrants and healthcare reform isn't quite the same as what he tells his friends when he thinks America isn't watching. As a matter of parsing words and splitting hairs, the distinctions are positively Clintonian in their brilliance. As a matter of public policy they are almost certain to inflame an electorate that is already highly skeptical of his effort to change American healthcare.