The president of the AFL-CIO left little room for doubt on Tuesday when he told Newsmax that organized labor will oppose any immigration-reform measure that includes a ban on government-managed healthcare for illegal immigrants.
Richard Trumka's fighting words came at a time when the Senate working group — known popularly as the Gang of Eight — appears headed toward including that healthcare ban in the comprehensive immigration package headed toward a Senate by July 4.
Considered the most powerful figure in the American labor movement, Trumka dismissed such a healthcare ban as the work of "naysayers who want to add conditions" that will kill the bill.
"And we will oppose attempts to kill the bill," Trumka said, adding that the AFL-CIO was fully committed to helping the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants "come out of the shadows" and become citizens.
Trumka made his strong statement about the immigration-reform package following his address to the Labor Research and Action Network conference at Georgetown Law Center in Washington.
During the question-and-answer period, Newsmax asked his thoughts on the "no healthcare, period" provision pushed by Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, both members of the Gang of Eight.
"I disagree with those who say healthcare is a matter of privilege," shot back Trumka. "It's not a matter of privilege, but a right."
His remarks prompted loud and prolonged applause from the audience of union strategists, researchers, and organizers at the two-day conclave.
At the Christian Science Monitor press breakfast June 12, Flake told Newsmax that the pending Gang of Eight immigration bill "does bar healthcare. That was our agreement." Bennet, at the same event, agreed.
Bennet disagreed with the argument made by some House Democrats that illegal immigrants should have access to healthcare under the Obamacare, but made clear that under the current Senate bill, illegal immigrants "don't have the benefit of subsidy and they don't have the benefit of a mandate."
Illegal immigrants, Bennet said, could receive healthcare coverage when "employers can purchase insurance for them."
"We don't change existing law," he senator said.
Republican Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho resigned from the House Gang of Eight over what he felt was Democratic insistence on government-run healthcare in the final legislation.
But in the last few days, signs have been growing that the measure soon to emerge from what is now the House Gang of Seven will not include healthcare access.
"Rather than agree to detailed language on healthcare," The Hill reported, "the group decided instead to essentially punt the issue and hew to the contours of the Senate Gang of Eight legislation, which makes clear that undocumented immigrants in a provisional legal status cannot receive federal benefits from the 2010 healthcare law."
Republican Rep. John Carter of Texas, a member of the remaining Gang of Seven, told the Hill: "I think it's going to be handled very much like the Senate is going to handle it."
Still, if Rich Trumka has his way, it will not be that easy for either the Senate or the House "to handle it" without a fight.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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