The Know-Nothings Redux.

“There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms — the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

This, of course, is the line from President Obama’s health-care speech that prompted the now-infamous “You lie!” outburst.  What got lost in the chaos that Wilson set off was the larger question of whether health-care reform should cover illegal immigrants – ground that Obama has obviously already conceded.  But as Andrew Romano of Newsweek and others have pointed out, there’s a strong economic case to be made for insuring people working here illegally.  Illegal immigrants are more likely to be younger and less expensive to insure; when they do get sick, they’re forced to go to the emergency room, which drives premiums up for everyone; and excluding illegal immigrants from the individual mandate creates a strong incentive for employers to hire more illegal immigrants, because they don’t have to provide health insurance for them.  There’s also, I think, a strong moral case to be made here as well: is it right to deny people who are working for and supporting American companies the benefits (dental, eye care, preventative care) that are only attainable with full coverage?

That’s not a debate we got to have, though, because the Democrats are so scared of being painted as pro-immigrant that they’ve caved to nearly every Republican position on illegal immigrants and health-care.  (On several of the bills that are up to be voted on, illegal immigrants are barred from buying even unsubsidized healthcare on the private market – even though nobody’s been able to explain quite how more money moving from consumer to health-insurance company, without any government involvement, is at all a bad thing.)  But I was thinking about it recently while I was reading that Republicans on the Finance Committee tried to add amendment to that health-care bill that would have barred federal subsidies not only to illegal immigrants, but to legal immigrants as well:

Last week, Mike Lillis caught a remarkable scene during the Senate Finance Committee debate: Republicans attempting to insert amendments that would bar legal immigrants — you caught that, legal immigrants — from accessing health-care exchanges, leaving those very immigrants Republicans say they are not hostile to, those who have “played by the rules” so to speak, without access to a reformed health-care system.

The amendment failed upon strict party lines, with 13 Democrats voting against and 10 Republicans voting for.

There’s an old and ugly and dangerous nativist sentiment in this country, and it seems to me that the Republican party is increasingly trying to tap into it.  It’s evident in this vote.  It’s evident in the “birther” conspiracy theories.  It’s evident in the Minutemen Project.  It’s the fear of the other, the stranger, the Muslim, the African, the Mexican.  And I’m glad that the party who’s pandering to this sentiment isn’t in power any more, but it disturbs me all the same.