Attack Ads You'll Be Seeing

By Ruth Marcus
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Here's an emerging line of attack you can expect to hear more of in the 2008 congressional campaigns -- especially if you live near a vulnerable Democratic incumbent: Democrats vote to give welfare benefits to illegal aliens.

Or, even better: Democrats vote to take benefits away from deserving senior citizens to pay for welfare for illegal aliens.

Ugly? Absolutely. Devastating? So Republicans hope. True? No.

Bashing Democrats on immigration -- accusing them of doing everything but carrying illegals' luggage across the border -- is a GOP mainstay. But the accusations that Republicans started to peddle last week reached a new low in dishonest nativism.

The first salvo involved the House version of the measure to extend the children's health insurance plan, SCHIP.

"What we do is take, at the cost of seniors who get . . . choices of their own health-care plans, we take it away," former speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) claimed during the House debate. "We wipe it out, and we give it to people who are illegal aliens."

"That bill, if it becomes law, would take $197 billion out of the Medicare trust fund, from our seniors, to give to illegal aliens," charged Rep. Ron Lewis (R-Ky.).

Leave aside the inflated numbers. Leave aside the scare talk about "our seniors." (AARP, the seniors' lobby, supports the bill.)

The provision at issue would repeal a 2006 requirement that everyone applying for Medicaid provide proof of citizenship -- passports or original birth certificates. That might sound sensible, but it has been a cumbersome, expensive solution to a non-problem.

In 2005, when he was overseeing the Medicaid program for the Bush administration, Mark McClellan noted that an inspector general's investigation did "not find particular problems regarding false allegations of citizenship, nor are we aware of any."

Because many Medicaid applicants don't have such papers easily at hand -- they're not the passport-carrying types -- the requirement has resulted in tens of thousands of eligible children being denied coverage or kicked off the rolls and has cost states millions of dollars to administer.

In Virginia, for instance, during the first nine months of implementation, the state's Medicaid rolls fell by 11,000 children -- even as the number of children enrolled in SCHIP, the parallel program for children in families earning slightly more, continued to rise. The impact wasn't on Hispanic children, whose families tend to have documents available and whose enrollment numbers continued to increase, but on white and African American children.

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