Obamacare poses a tricky problem for supporters of the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill. It would be too politically toxic to give illegal immigrants amnesty and taxpayer subsidies under Obamacare, so the Senate bill prohibits "registered provisional immigrants" (individuals who are now residing illegally in the United States granted legal status under the bill) from receiving Obamacare subsidies. But in so doing the Senate's immigration bill would create a big financial incentive for some employers to hire non-citizens granted legal status over American citizens.
As the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein recently reported: "Under Obamacare, businesses with over 50 workers that employ American citizens without offering them qualifying health insurance could be subject to fines of up to $3,000 per worker. But because newly legalized immigrants wouldn’t be eligible for subsidies on the Obamacare exchanges until after they become citizens – at least 13 years under the Senate bill – businesses could avoid such fines by hiring the new immigrants instead."
On Tuesday afternoon, THE WEEKLY STANDARD asked five different U.S. Senators about this problem. These five senators, all Democrats, voted to cut off debate Monday night on the revised immigration bill, but none of them knew if the bill would create a financial incentive for some employers to hire amnestied immigrants instead of American citizens.
"We're trying to solve that right now. I don't know if that's been solved," Senator Max Baucus of Montana (chief author of Obamacare) told THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
"I don't know. I'd have to look at it closely," said Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. "I just haven't read it that closely to know."
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said he thought the Affordable Care Act's fines would apply no matter what. "I'd have to look at the ACA, but I don't think it distinguishes" between citizens and those on a path to citizenship, Blumenthal said. But then he said he wasn't quite sure. "I mean I'd have to look. You're asking a legal question. It's not an opinion question," Blumenthal added. "I don't recall any distinction in the law. But that's a good question. I'd have to check."
Senator Tom Carper of Delaware said he was too busy to answer the question. "I don't have the time to drill down on it right now," he told me. And Senator Barbara Boxer of California replied with something of a non sequitur before the Senators-only elevator doors closed in my face. "I think if you work for an employer who offers health care, you will get the health care you want," Boxer said. Spokesmen for Senators McCain and Rubio did not reply to a request for comment.
It's possible that last minute changes could still fix this problem in the bill, but it should be remarkable that so many senators voted to cut off debate on the bill Monday night without knowing whether the problem even exists.
And, to clear up any uncertainty, The New Republic, Investors' Business Daily, and the Washington Examiner have all reported that the bill certainly does create an incentive for some employers to hire "registered provisional immigrants" instead of U.S. citizens. The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler wrote that the claim is false, but then he updated his article to admit he was wrong.