Rep. Joe Wilson is apologizing for blurting out "You lie!" during President Obama's nationally televised address Wednesday night — but he's not backing down one bit about Obama being wrong in saying healthcare reform won't subsidize insurance for illegals.
"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President's remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the healthcare bill," the South Carolina Republican said in a statement issued shortly after the president's speech to a joint session of Congress ended. "While I disagree with the President's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility."
Reaction to Wilson's outburst came fast and furious. Republicans distanced themselves from the breach of protocol — Sen. John McCain of Arizona decried it as "totally disrespectful" adding, "there is no place for it in that setting — and House Democrats actually called for Wilson to be censored.
Efforts by Democrats to pillory Wilson for doing the same thing Town Hall protesters did around the nation during the August recess — speaking the truth as they see it to those in power — may backfire. Already, the nation's attention is turning to the actual issue Wilson raised — an accusation that billions of taxpayers' dollars will go to pay for health insurance coverage for undocumented workers, if the current reform proposals go through.
Supporters of so-called "Obamacare" point out that the measures being drafted all specifically forbid illegal aliens from gaining coverage. But conservatives say those stipulations are useless without the normal enforcement procedures which Democrats omitted.
"Obama is correct," Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, tells Newsmax. "The legislation states illegals won't get the affordability credits [to pay for their healthcare]. But Wilson's comment is correct in that the normal enforcement mechanism was excluded from the bill. I think that's the fundamental question."
Camarota's organization has estimated that due to the lack of enforcement provisions — which were specifically excluded from the legislation when it was being drafted — healthcare reform would benefit 6.6 million illegals at a cost of some $31 billion.
"In that sense it is disingenuous," Camarota tells Newsmax, "to argue that the bill is excluding illegal immigrants. I'm not going to say lie. It's disingenuous. It's not entirely correct. And that's a big deal."
Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., had offered an amendment that would have prevented illegal aliens from receiving government-subsidized healthcare under the proposed plan.
The House Ways and Means Committee nixed the Heller amendment by a 26-to-15 vote along straight party lines.
Many states give illegals drivers licenses, which will be sufficient to get free healthcare under the plan.
Critics also contend that millions of illegals already have counterfeit Social Security cards or other fraudulent documents. There also is no enforcement mechanism in the legislation to prevent illegals who use fake IDs from also obtaining taxpayer-subsidized health insurance.
GOP representatives introduced the amendment to provide a way to weed out non-citizens from the program.
A description of the amendment on Heller's Web site states, "The underlying bill is insufficient for the purpose of preventing illegal aliens from accessing the bill’s proposed benefits, as it does not provide mechanisms allowing those administering the program to ensure illegal aliens cannot access taxpayer-funded subsidies and benefits."
The Heller amendment would have required that individuals applying for the public healthcare option would be subject to two systems used to verify immigration status already in use by the government: The Income and Eligibility Verification System (IEVS) and the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program.
The two systems cross-reference Social Security numbers and employment information to establish whether an individual is a U.S. citizen.
That coverage for illegals has become an explosive issue is not surprising, considering that a recent Rasmussen Reports poll found an overwhelming 80 percent of Americans oppose covering illegals in any public healthcare bill.
Moreover, anti-immigration activists say the availability of low-cost benefits, including health insurance and in-state tuition, will only lure more immigrants to come to the United States.
Political analyst Dick Morris, in his recently released best-selling book “Catastrophe”, warns that giving illegal free healthcare will lead to a flood of new illegals who can take advantage of such a benefit not offered in their home countries.
William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, agrees with that view, stating: "Each state and federal elected official must know that illegal aliens should not be given licenses, in-state tuition, mortgages, bank accounts, welfare, or any other benefit short of emergency medical care and law enforcement accommodations before they are deported."
But a small fraction of illegals end up deported, and millions use fake IDs to easily gain access to government benefits programs.
"Experts suggest that approximately 75 percent of working-age illegal aliens use fraudulent Social Security cards to obtain employment," wrote Ronald W. Mortensen in a recent Center for Immigration Studies research paper. Mortensen says one of the big misconceptions about illegals is that they are undocumented. Many use false identification to obtain regular employment.
John Sheils of the Lewin Group, a healthcare consulting firm owned by UnitedHealth Group, recently told National Public Radio that about 6.1 million illegals — about half of all illegals in the United States — lack documentation and therefore would not be legally eligible for benefits under the current healthcare reforms.
Sheils says the other half of the nation's illegals — 5 million to 6 million — use false documents to obtain on-the-books employment. Many of them are already insured under their employers' plans, he added.
While President Obama has stated employees currently covered by their employers' plans would not be eligible for the taxpayer-subsidized "public option," they would become eligible as soon as they lose their job or if their employers drop their coverage. And Republicans say that without enforcement measures, the citizenship of those workers wouldn't matter.
"A lot of those people are getting employer health benefits as part of their compensation," Sheils told NPR.
Certainly, some contend that undocumented workers who are gainfully employed and receiving benefits such as health insurance are contributing to society. But the fact remains that, once equipped with a fake ID, a person in the United States illegally can obtain both a job and the benefits that go with it.
Estimates of the cost of providing illegals with medical care vary. Most uninsured illegals who need medical attention obtain it from hospital emergency rooms. And several states are already straining under the huge burden of paying for the health costs of illegal aliens.
One of the ironies of the proposed legislation is that it would fine American citizens who opt not to purchase insurance coverage, but would exempt illegals from such fines. This is presumably due to the fact that they are not supposed to participate in the program anyway.
Even if no illegals were likely to benefit from healthcare reform, Democrats have made it clear that amnesty is the next item on their ambitious legislative agenda anyway. Undocumented workers who obtain amnesty would almost certainly become eligible for subsidized healthcare.
"I've got to do healthcare, I've got to do energy, and then I'm looking very closely at doing immigration," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declared in June.
Reid explained the urgent need for amnesty in terms very similar to those that Democrats have used to press for healthcare reform. "We have an immigration system that's broken and needs repair," Reid said.
Rep. Wilson said Wednesday his outburst was a "spontaneous" reaction. He tried to call the president after the speech to apologize, and ended up speaking with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to head off efforts to have Wilson sanctioned. "It's time for us to talk about healthcare, not Joe Wilson," she said Wednesday. Wilson told the media he's actually for immigration, "But people who come to our country and violated our laws, we should not be providing full services."
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