Commentary Magazine


Is ObamaCare an Impediment to Immigration Reform?

There are two ways to look at the immigration section of the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, neither of which is particularly encouraging. Pessimists will note right off the bat the public’s lack of enthusiasm toward the Senate immigration bill: it gets barely a plurality, but not majority, support from voters. Those who “strongly” oppose the plan outnumber those who “strongly” support it. There was lukewarm support for a path to citizenship. And only 32 percent want an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill to take place in the House.

But there is something of a silver lining. Although just a third want a House vote on the Senate bill, that’s not because respondents wanted the issue to be shunted aside: only two percent want no consideration of immigration reform by the House at all. A majority, in fact, approve of House Speaker John Boehner’s approach, which entails breaking up the bill and considering various pieces of the reform effort as standalone bills. There is, however, a major problem with this strategy, which I wrote about the last time it was floated.

Republicans are wary of a path to citizenship for immigrants currently in the country illegally. And a piecemeal approach taken by the GOP-controlled House is unlikely to address the aspects of the reform effort that aren’t popular with conservatives, the path to citizenship among them. But Democrats control the Senate and will not vote to pass anything that doesn’t offer a path to citizenship. Republicans can play chicken with the Senate Democrats and pass sensible pieces of legislation and dare the Democrats not to support them. But that brings Republicans to another landmine buried in today’s poll: a majority say if a path to citizenship is not ultimately enacted, they would blame House Republicans.

If it feels like we’re going around in circles on immigration reform, that’s because we are. Democrats have a public relations advantage they will press until their demand (a path to citizenship) is met. Most conservatives don’t like granting illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. The polls haven’t altered this political reality, and no developments have cleared the impasse.

The latest poll has, however, illuminated one other obstacle to immigration reform: ObamaCare. One concern about a path to citizenship has been the cost of entitlements to new immigrants. But even if you deny provisional immigrants access to ObamaCare’s benefits, the cost is not the only, or even the primary, concern with regard to ObamaCare. The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll pointed to this two weeks ago with a post titled “Immigration reform is dead and Obamacare implementation killed it.” The operative word there is implementation.

The more the public hears about the train-wreck rollout of ObamaCare, the less appetizing yet another legislative behemoth seems. The ObamaCare rollout has been dispiriting both to those who once believed the federal government could handle a massive reform effort and those–especially Republicans–who assumed the president would even follow his own law rather than unilaterally suspending the parts that would have been a drag on his party’s fortunes in the upcoming midterm congressional elections, as he did with the temporary suspension of the employer mandate.

That makes it easier to understand some of the seeming contradictions in the Post’s poll results. For example, if 46 percent of respondents support the immigration bill as passed by the Senate, why would only 32 percent want a vote on it in the House, with majority support for the piecemeal approach? Perhaps a clue can be found in the health care section of the same poll, in which 49 percent of respondents said they oppose ObamaCare (to 42 percent who support it) and, more tellingly, 48 percent said the employer mandate delay “means that the overall health care law is so flawed it should be dropped.” The other response, that the mandate delay “is just something that happens when changes are made in a complex system,” garnered 46 percent.

With regard to immigration reform, that 46 percent isn’t so encouraging. That means almost half the country expects massive government reform efforts to be unworkable or economically unsustainable without immediate (and possibly unlawful) changes on the fly at the outset of its implementation. The other half of the country wants the whole reform erased from the books. It’s unsurprising, then, that they get cold feet when confronted with yet another major federal overhaul, even if they are sympathetic to its intentions.