House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed Thursday that taxpayers will not cover healthcare costs for illegal immigrants who gain a pathway to citizenship under immigration reform.
"It is stated very clearly in the Affordable Care Act, [and] it is our position in the immigration bill: no access to subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. Secondly, no access to Medicaid; no cost to the taxpayer," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. "That has always been the Democratic position."
Pelosi was pushing back against reports indicating that Democratic leaders have stalled the House immigration negotiations by resisting a draft provision that would prohibit illegal immigrants entering the "pathway to citizenship" from receiving taxpayer-subsidized healthcare benefits at any level of government. The ban would include the federal subsidies under ObamaCare.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the second-ranking Democrat in the House, suggested earlier this week that Democratic leaders oppose the draft provision on healthcare.
But Pelosi delivered a different message Thursday, decrying "some misrepresentations reported in the press."
"We must value the contribution of immigrants to our country. In doing so, we must protect our borders, we must protect our workers, and we must protect the taxpayer," Pelosi said. "It is a bottom line, no need to even discuss it: no subsidies in the Affordable Care Act, no Medicaid."
She did not mention any other subsidized healthcare programs, including Medicare and the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
Immigrant rights advocates have raised concerns that uninsured immigrants in line for citizenship under a reform law might nonetheless be deported if they needed emergency medical care and couldn't pay the costs. But Pelosi said the immigration bill would not affect the decades-old law requiring hospitals to provide emergency care regardless of the coverage or immigration status of the patient.
"That is untouched by any of this," she said.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (R-Ohio) on Thursday tried to stay out of the debate in the bipartisan immigration group, saying there are “people on both sides of the aisle who’ve done their best to try to undermine their ability to get to an agreement.”
The Speaker warned, however, that the House would not be “stampeded” by the White House or the Senate.
“The House is going to work its will on immigration,” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE said. “We’re not going to be stampeded by the White House or stampeded by the president. The Senate is working its will. A lot of good work that’s gone on over there. But the House is going to work its will.
“Don’t ask me how, because if I knew, I’d certainly tell you,” he added with a chuckle.
Pelosi characterized the House negotiations as "a work in progress," and pushed back against the notion that Democratic leaders would rather have the House take up the Senate bill than consider a package forged in the lower chamber, which is likely to be more conservative.
"It is my view that it would be very helpful to have a bipartisanly supported House bill to go to the table [and] to reconcile our differences," she said.
Pelosi suggested that there are "other issues" unrelated to healthcare that are holding up the House negotiations, specifically provisions surrounding the E-Verify system.
"They have a trigger in there that says if E-Verify is not fully accomplished in five years … then all of these people revert to the status that they have now," she said. "I think that's pretty drastic."
The eight negotiators were scheduled to meet twice on Thursday in the hopes of reaching an agreement. Republican Rep. Raúl Labrador (Idaho) told reporters on Wednesday that the group had set a Thursday deadline for resolving the healthcare issue, although other members would not confirm a firm deadline.
Another Republican in the group, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), said the fate of the agreement rested squarely with Pelosi.
“It all depends on, is there anything that will satisfy Madam Pelosi? That’s what holding it all back,” Diaz-Balart told reporters Thursday morning. “The decision is whether Nancy wants to kill the bill, or whether she wants to have the process move forward. It’s really up to her.”
“We were doing really well, and we were done, and then all of a sudden, she put a halt to everything,” he added.
Diaz-Balart called on President Obama, who has thus far stayed out of the House immigration debate, to lean on Pelosi to back the deal.
“This is the time for him to step up and say, ‘Hey, let’s get a bill. Let’s get a bill to conference,’” Diaz-Balart said. “I’m sure if he spoke to Nancy Pelosi, she’d agree to move forward.”
— This story was updated at 1:12 p.m. and 1:33 p.m.