The Alabama Moderate

Painting the Red State Purple.

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How to Address an Issue Without Addressing the Issue

Posted by ALmod on September 12, 2009

If anything, I wonder if Democrats shouldn’t be thanking Joe Wilson right about now.

His outburst has created a discussion on the true status of illegal immigrants in regard to H.R. 3200.  And what appears to be getting through is the truth, for once.  I wonder if that discussion would have taken place had Wilson kept his mouth shut.

And so, as more and more and more people are learning that the bill actually does contain a clause (on page 143 of the bill) that specifically states that “[n]othing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States,” the argument from the right appears to have shifted more toward enforcement of such a measure (or lack thereof).  The Heller Amendment seems to be the rallying cry, in particular.  If there is concern for making sure that illegal immigrants do not receive federal money for health care then why would the measure have been shot down?

The answer is simple.  The Heller Amendment was never intended to pass.  The only reason for its existence is to be a talking point.

First we have to consider something.  The bill does in fact address how illegal aliens would be handled under the new health care system.  Not only does it specifically say that they will not be covered, but the Congressional Research Service has suggested that illegal aliens would be required to purchase private insurance to cover their expenses or face a hefty fine.  And further clarification from the White House offered on September 12 stated that they will not be able to purchase insurance through the new exchange or the public option.  (In other words, they would still be paying for their own health coverage just like many of them are already doing today.)  Verification would be required when purchasing insurance through the exchange and/or public option.  So all this considered, why on earth would an additional amendment be needed– particularly one that might cause problems for legal immigrants?  It isn’t.

So why would anyone suggest an amendment that they knew wasn’t needed?  Again, it’s a talking point.  Dr. Steven Taylor summed it up quite nicely here.

Minority member proposes amendment which it claims will do X (or prevent X or somesuch).

Majority votes it down, because they are already happy with their majority-crafted, majority-approved bill.

Minority and its supporters (e.g., talk show hosts) then claim that the rejection of the amendment is proof that the Majority is opposed to X.

However, there are any number of reasons for the rejection of the amendment, not the least of which being that it was a minority amendment to a majority bill. Why should the majority accept the amendment? Also, it is usually never so simple as X or Not X.

Still, the whole purpose for the minority in proposing the amendment in the first place was to create the X/Not X debate, as it knew from the beginning that it wasn’t going to get the majority to accept the amendment. It is textbook (seriously, this kind of behavior can be found in any text on the legislative process in the US).

I will add to that.  Assume that the majority party passes such an amendment.  At this point, the minority party can insinuate that whatever minor issue they inserted into this amendment is now something that the majority supports.  It’s a win-win situation for the party proposing the amendment– provided of course that your talking point is short enough so that the opposing response would result in a one way hash political argument.

A very similar situation has cropped up in the form of the anti-abortion argument.  Many have pointed to the Capps amendment which will mandate that the public health option cover some abortions.  But these same people overlook the fact that the exact same amendment also states that federal funds cannot be used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or where the mother’s life is in danger– situations where many Republicans have a hard time arguing against abortions.

But those who point out these problems do have a point.  More needs to be done to address these issue if in fact it’s something you believe in.  Tougher standards on abortions and hospitals that provide them.  (Even abortion advocates can agree that they want women to be safe.)  Tougher laws that address illegal immigration and reduce the number of illegal aliens that we have– thus reducing the number of them that show up in the ERs with a serious ailment and without insurance.  These things are needed, but to tack them onto a health care bill that is already very long and very complicated probably isn’t the best way to go about it.  Politicians aren’t exactly restricted to drafting and passing one bill per session.  So why not draft a separate bill to address these issues?

Because they don’t want it to pass.

Many Republicans have already made it clear that they have no intention of supporting any health care legislation regardless as to what’s in there.  Many seem more interested in making sure that the Democrats fail rather than making sure the country succeeds.  Why do I say this?  Because the only platform that I’ve seen thus far as been generic at best.  At worst, it’s been anti-Democrat rather than clearly a Republican platform of small government and strong defense.  In fact, some might find the irony in a party who goes on about how government has no business in health care and yet in the same breath insists that they should put restrictions on what can be covered, even by private funding.

But many might find it hard to pass immigration legislation that seriously penalizes employers who hire illegal aliens.  Some of them might find themselves sans nanny.  And many might find it even harder to pass legislation that would ban abortions outright for any reason.  So what better way to show you tried to do something about these issues (*nudge nudge* *wink wink*) than by showboating an amendment to another piece of legislation while knowing full well that your suggestion will never make it out of committee?

So the response to the right from the left is simple, and there need be no long answers to explain why X wasn’t included.  Rather, they merely need to ask the following:

“If this issue is so important, why hasn’t Senator Y attempted to pass this as stand alone legislation that would address the issue rather than trying to tack it onto a bill he’s trying to defeat?”

I’m sure the talking heads will eventually find a way to get around that one way hash, but at least it will be entertaining to watch.

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