Wonkbook: Obamacare could ruin immigration reform for Republicans

June 17, 2013

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(Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

The polls on Obamacare has never been where the White House wishes they were. The bill was unpopular before it passed. It was unpopular after it passed. It's unpopular now.

But there's one number the White House always has liked: Obamacare is really popular in the Hispanic community. Polling often shows support in the 2-to-1, and even 3-to-1, range. It could just be that Hispanics like President Obama and so they like his law. But it could be that 30 percent of nonelderly Hispanics are uninsured, as opposed to 11 percent of whites and 21 percent of African Americans. Hispanics stand to gain a lot from health reform, and so it's important to them.

This leads to the most generous interpretation of Rep. Paul Ryan's surprising comment that the 2012 election was stacked against the Republicans because they were facing the gauzy promises of Obamacare. Ryan's theory doesn't make much sense among white voters, who dislike the law, and who Romney won anyway. It doesn't make much sense among African American voters, who have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in more than just the last election. But it perhaps makes some sense among Hispanic voters, where Romney won only 27 percent, even as George W. Bush won more than 40 percent. And it's Hispanic voters that most worry Republicans right now.

But if Republicans are trying to make inroads with the Obamacare-loving Hispanic electorate, they've got a funny way of going about it. The latest flashpoint in the immigration debate is health benefits. Senate Republicans are insisting that immigrants be ineligible for federal health subsidies for five years after they become legal residents -- and that's after the decade-long path to becoming a legal resident, during which they're also ineligible. House Republicans are considering legislation "that would deny publicly subsidized emergency care to illegal immigrants and force them to purchase private health insurance plans, without access to federal subsidies, as a requirement for earning permanent legal residency."

And all this will come at the same time when Republican governors in states with huge Hispanic population are rejecting a Medicaid expansion that would hugely benefit many poorer Hispanics. In Texas, Democratic strategists already think this might be the push the state needs to turn blue.

So amidst an effort to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill meant to help the Republican Party appeal to Hispanic voters, Republicans are making a point of demanding that legalized immigrants can't get Obamacare, and in some cases can't even get emergency care. They're also considering a crushingly punitive version of the individual mandate, in which undocumented immigrants need to purchase private health care on their own, without subsidies, or they can't even become legal residents. And they're refusing to agree to Obamacare's Medicaid expansion in some of the states where it would do Hispanics the most good.

This is, to say the least, a mixed message.

And it highlights a broader problem for Republicans in the Hispanic community. Republicans who want to win Hispanic votes often make the point that Hispanic voters care about more than immigration reform -- they care about the economy and education and health care and national defense. And that's true. But the Republican Party is not just at odds with Hispanic voters over immigration reform. They're at odds with Hispanic voters over most of those other issues, too. And the internal dynamics of the GOP are such that in order to pass immigration reform they need to emphasize and publicize those other disagreements in a way that's particularly noxious to Hispanic voters. It's as if to end a fight with your wife over the kids you had to really push home the point that you never liked her mother.

The Hispanic community might find this year that Republicans aren't as opposed to immigration reform as they thought. But they're also going to find that Republicans are much more opposed to helping the large group of uninsured Hispanics than they ever imagined. Republicans might end up in a situation where Democrats get most of the credit for passing immigration reform and Hispanics end up with a new reason to dislike the Republican Party -- one that will persist even if immigration recedes as an issue in American politics.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 2278. That's the House Resolution number for the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act, a bill that would sharply tighten border security.

Wonkbook's Quotation of the Day: “I think it's an excellent starting point, and I think 95, 96 percent of the bill is in perfect shape and ready to go.  But there are elements that need to be improved,” said Sen. Marco Rubio."

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: A chart on hospital CEO pay and incentives.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) immigration reform's troublesome 5 percent; 2) Fed meeting this week; 3) fresh NSA details; 4) hospital CEO bonuses; and 5) Republican troubles.

1) Top story: Immigration reform's 95-5 split

Republicans trying to use health-care law to derail Obama’s immigration reform efforts. "After spending years unsuccessfully trying to overturn “Obamacare,” Republicans are now attempting to use President Obama’s landmark health-care law to derail his top second-term initiative — a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration system...In the House, Republicans are considering proposals that would deny publicly subsidized emergency care to illegal immigrants and force them to purchase private health insurance plans, without access to federal subsidies, as a requirement for earning permanent legal residency." David Nakamura and Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.

Explainer: 6 amendments to watch in the Senate on immigration reformRamsey Cox in The Hill.

Longread: "Getting to Maybe," by Ryan Lizza, in The New Yorker.

Rubio's angling prompts angst among Gang of 8. "The Senate’s Gang of Eight is out in force to sell its immigration bill to the public, minus one pivotal member: Marco Rubio. The Florida Republican has spent hours strategizing in private with the bipartisan group of senators, but he hasn’t appeared in public with them since late April — nixing requests for press conferences after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the immigration bill." Manu Raju and Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico.

@RichLowry: amazing that marco rubio is still claiming that he might vote against the immigration deal that he crafted

...But he says that reform is basically here. "“I think it's an excellent starting point, and I think 95, 96 percent of the bill is in perfect shape and ready to go.  But there are elements that need to be improved.  This is how the legislative process is supposed to work,” said Rubio." Meghashyam Mali in The Hill.

@robertcostaNRO: On Capitol Hill, it seems the press thinks Jeb is a Big Deal and a Powerful Voice on immigration. But I don't see it within House GOP

House takes on immigration, one bit at a time. "Mr. Goodlatte, a low-profile conservative who is new to the chairman's job this year, opposes the Senate's comprehensive bill and plans instead to advance a series of more narrowly focused immigration bills. He will begin Tuesday with votes on a get-tough enforcement measure that would turn the debate sharply to the right. Critics worry his piecemeal approach will bury rather than breathe life into the immigration debate. But Mr. Goodlatte argues that his approach allows more careful legislating on a complicated topic." Janet Hook in The Wall Street Journal.

...They'll advance a border-security measure next week. "House Republicans next week will mark up a bill that aims to strengthen border security by giving states the authority to enforce immigration laws, boosting funds for border officials, and improving visa security. The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will mark up H.R. 2278, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act. The legislation includes what many Republicans believe is missing from a bipartisan Senate bill, which is tougher border enforcement." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

As U.S. plugs border in Ariz., crossings shift. "A surge in migrant traffic across the Southwest border into Texas has resulted in a milestone: the front line of the battle against illegal crossings from Mexico has shifted for the first time in over a decade away from Arizona to the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. This shift has intensified a bitter debate under way in the Senate over whether the border is secure enough now, or ever will be, to move ahead with legislation that could give legal status to millions of illegal immigrants already here." Eric Lipton and Julia Preston in The New York Times.

@BuzzFeedAndrew: Why Edward Snowden's treachery is a product of the Reddit subculture and what it means for immigration reform by David Brooks.

Fears of national ID in immigration bill. "Driver’s license photographs and biographic information of most Americans would be accessible through an expanded Department of Homeland Security nationwide computer network if the immigration legislation pending before the Senate becomes law...But the proposal already faces objections from some civil liberties lawyers and certain members of Congress, who worry about the potential for another sprawling data network that could ultimately be the equivalent of a national ID system." Eric Lipton in The New York Times.

Music recommendations interlude: Matt Simons, "With You."

Top op-eds

FRANK: What Sweden can tell us about Obamacare. "While in Sweden this month as a visiting scholar, I’ve asked several Swedish health economists to share their thoughts about that question. They have spent their lives under a system in which most health care providers work directly for the government. Like economists in most other countries, they tend to be skeptical of large bureaucracies. So if extensive government involvement in health care is indeed a recipe for doom, they should have clear evidence of that by now." Robert H. Frank in The New York Times.

KRUGMAN: Fight the future. "Last week the International Monetary Fund, whose normal role is that of stern disciplinarian to spendthrift governments, gave the United States some unusual advice. “Lighten up,” urged the fund. “Enjoy life! Seize the day!”...Is it urgent that we agree now on how we’ll deal with fiscal issues of the 2020s, the 2030s and beyond? No, it isn’t." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

DIONNE: Great Gatsby economics is no party for the middle class. "The rock world is simply a more extreme version of the larger American experience. The top 1 percent of families doubled their share of national income between 1979 and 2011: Their take went from 10 percent to 20 percent of the whole. We live in a superstar economy. That phrase and the examples come from Alan Krueger, the outgoing chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, in a speech last week at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that drove home the danger of growing economic inequality." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

Tumblr interlude: Harvard's Houghton Library, which houses rare books and manuscripts. Warning: Large and amazing images.

2) Fed meeting this week

Economists wary as Fed's next forecast looms. "In every year of the economic recovery the Federal Reserve has overestimated how fast the economy would grow. Many economists believe it is doing so again. The Wall Street Journal's monthly survey of private-sector economists shows that forecasters on average expect the economy to grow 2.3% this year and 2.8% next year. The Fed is more optimistic. Its latest growth projections, made in March, average closer to 2.6% for 2013 and closer to 3.2% for 2014. At the conclusion of its two-day policy meeting on Wednesday, the Fed will release its updated projections of growth, inflation and unemployment." Jon Hilsenrath and Phil Izzo in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: Key economic data coming your way this weekAmrita Jayakumar in The Washington Post.

How the end of easing might affect asset prices. "More than $500 billion wiped off the value of U.S. stocks is providing opportunities for investors who remember that equities tend to rise when the Federal Reserve begins reducing efforts to stimulate the economy. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which has fallen 2.5 percent from its May 21 record, rallied an average 16 percent over two years the last four times the central bank started raising interest rates, according to data compiled by Bloomberg." Whitney Kisling in Bloomberg.

Even pessimists feel optimistic about the American economy. "[C]ould the New Normal, as this long economic slog has been called, be growing old? That is the surprising new view of a number of economists in academia and on Wall Street, who are now predicting something the United States has not experienced in years: healthier, more lasting growth." Nelson D. Schwartz in The New York Times.

Fears of a new housing bubble full of air. "On appearances alone then, it isn't surprising to hear warnings that another bubble may be brewing. The numbers don't quite support that view, though, and two important pieces of data this week on the housing market should underscore that point...There is still plenty of demand for the housing market's limited offerings before the word "bubble" should enter the discussion." Spencer Jakab in The Wall Street Journal.

Q&A: Ten economic questions for the second half of 2013Bill McBride in Calculated Risk.

Where should Fannie and Freddie go? "In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats have begun work on a bipartisan bill that would replace Fannie and Freddie within five years with a new "public guarantor" as part of a broader framework designed to wean the government back from its outsized role backstopping the nation's $10 trillion mortgage market." Nick Timiraos in The Wall Street Journal.

Market turmoil forces G8 leaders to focus on global economy. "Turmoil in financial markets is once again overshadowing a Group of Eight summit, turning world leaders’ attention away from trade, tax and transparency and back to the bumps on the road to recovery. With global bond markets swooning on the hint that the US might slow its money-printing operations and currency market volatility leaping as investors try to gauge the right level of the dollar and the yen, G8 leaders know the world economy remains a dangerous place." Chris Giles, Robin Harding, and Ben McLannahan in The Financial Times.

Britain is doing well on employment despite a crummy economy. Why? "The British economy hasn’t been doing so hot in recent years. Things haven’t been quite as terrible there as they’ve been in the rest of Europe, but compared to the United States and Japan — whose recoveries haven’t exactly been enviable — growth has been pretty sluggish...Here’s the odd part, though. Even as growth has been sluggish, the British labor market has actually been doing all right." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

...So is a little bit of inflation just what the doctor ordered to keep unemployment down? "It’s a well-established fact, across time and geography, that there is “nominal wage rigidity.” That is, people hate, hate, hate seeing their wages cut, and businesses are thus reluctant to cut salaries even when business conditions would seem to warrant it. This is an important factor behind why recessions tend to result in higher unemployment, rather than lower wages...But inflation offers a workaround to the problem of rigid nominal wages. What happened in Britain starting in 2010 to 2012 seems to be this: Many people, as experience suggests, saw their wages frozen in place. But because inflation was quite high, their “real,” or inflation-adjusted wages, actually fell a good bit." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Hmm interlude: "The first thing I did after I heard about the highly classified NSA PRISM program two years ago was set up a proxy server in Peshawar to email me passages from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake."

3) Fresh NSA details

U.S. surveillance architecture includes collection of revealing Internet, phone metadata. "Authoritative new answers to those questions, drawing upon a classified NSA history of STELLARWIND and interviews with high-ranking intelligence officials, offer the clearest map yet of the Bush-era programs and the NSA’s contemporary U.S. operations. STELLARWIND was succeeded by four major lines of intelligence collection in the territorial United States, together capable of spanning the full range of modern telecommunications, according to the interviews and documents." Barton Gellman in The Washington Post.

McDonough: Obama will speak about NSA. "White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said President Obama will make more remarks about National Security Agency telephone data and internet surveillance programs in the coming days." Ben German in The Hill.

Officials: No NSA collection of phone-location records. "The National Security Agency sweeps up data on millions of cellphones and Internet communications under secret court orders. But as it mounts a rigorous defense of its surveillance, the agency has disclosed new details that portray its efforts as tightly controlled and limited in scope, while successful in thwarting potential plots. On Sunday, officials said that though the NSA is authorized to collect "geolocational" information that can pinpoint the location of callers, it chooses not to." Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes in The Wall Street Journal.

Rep. Mike Rogers: Examples of thwarted terror plots will spur Americans to support surveillance. "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Sunday that once Americans learn more about the extent to which the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance methods helped thwart terror plots, they will warm up to the efforts. “If you can see just the number of cases where we’ve actually stopped a plot, I think Americans will come to a different conclusion than all the misleading rhetoric I’ve heard over the the last few weeks,” Rogers said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”" Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Washington Post interlude: Introducing PostTV.

4) Huge, multi-part story lands on hospital CEO bonuses

Hospital CEO bonuses reward volume and growth. "Across the nation, boards at nonprofit hospitals such as Valley are often paying bosses much more for boosting volume rather than delivering value, according to interviews with compensation consultants and an examination of CEOs' employment contracts and bonus packages. Such deals undermine measures in the 2010 health law that aim to cut unnecessary treatment and control costs, say economists and policy authorities." Jay Hancock in Kaiser Health News.

Chart: Hospital CEO pay and incentivesKaiser Health News.

How does the CEO earn his bonus? At most hospitals, it's hard to know. "To shed light on incentives for medical system growth, Kaiser Health News queried dozens of hospital groups, including 30 of the biggest public and private nonprofit medical organizations in the country. We asked for copies of the CEO's employment contract as well as the targets that determine his or her incentive bonus." Jay Hancock in Kaiser Health News.

Q&A: On the bonuses storyKaiser Health News.

...Other hospital CEOs don't take bonuses. "Should hospitals award CEOs bonuses for growth and profits or for quality and efficiency? That's the wrong question, some authorities believe. They think hospital bosses shouldn't get any bonus pay...Nonprofit hospitals have mimicked corporate America by motivating CEOs with payments tied to the bottom line and other goals. But boards and CEOs at some of the most admired and efficient health systems in the country believe any kind of incentive pay for the top boss is a mistake." Jay Hancock in Kaiser Health News.

GOP legislators: We won't provide regular constituent services relating to Affordable Care Act. "Some Republicans indicated to The Hill they will not assist constituents in navigating the law and obtaining benefits. Others said they would tell people to call the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). "Given that we come from Kansas, it's much easier to say, 'Call your former governor,'" said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R), referring to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "You say, 'She's the one. She's responsible. She was your governor, elected twice, and now you reelected the president, but he picked her.'" Huelskamp said." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

More great sentences interlude: "Pakistan -- a global leader in intolerance towards homosexuals -- leads the world in Google searches for gay pornography, according to an analysis of search terms published by Mother Jones."

5) A time of troubles for Republicans

For squabbling Republicans, the gloves come off. "Republicans have stopped being polite and have started getting real. The differences between the tea party and the establishment wings of the party are nothing new — and have been brewing for the better part of the past three years. But what is new is that those squabbles have begun to be aired publicly." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

Is it really the GOP's anti-immigration stance that turns off Latinos? "So what does the evidence say about how Latinos have responded to changes in the GOP stance on immigration? Here, I look at two examples, both of which tell a similar story.  Latino voters do turn anti-Republican in reaction to Republicans who are perceived to turn anti-immigration." Dan Hopkins in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Throwing children in prison turns out to be a really bad ideaBrad Plumer.

Is a little bit of inflation just what the doctor ordered to keep unemployment down? Neil Irwin.

Is it really the GOP’s anti-immigration stances that turn off Latinos? Dan Hopkins.

Britain is doing well on employment despite a crummy economy. Why? Dylan Matthews.

Et Cetera

Tough place to fill job openings: U.S. SenateJanet Hook in The Wall Street Journal.

Conservatives likely to write most remaining decisions in Supreme Court’s termRobert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Pew finds strong slant towards gay marriage in media coverage. The Associated Press.

States ease use of life policies for elder careKelly Greene in The Wall Street Journal.

White House, EPA at odds over savings produced by emissions regulationsJulian Hattem in The Hill.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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