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How the "Government Takeover" Meme Took Over

Though comparatively less divisive than abortion debate roiling the House this weekend, the immigration issue in the health-care bill also has yet to be settled. The controversy is over whether to prohibit unauthorized immigrants from purchasing insurance that’s available through the new insurance exchanges. The Senate Finance bill includes such a prohibition, and conservatives have been pushing to include a similar one in the House bill. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus oppose it, arguing that unauthorized immigrants should be able to buy coverage using their own private money, and that enacting such a prohibition could discourage legal immigrants and other groups from using the exchanges.

As The Washington Post reports, House Democratic leaders have assured members of the Hispanic Caucus that the measure won’t end up in the bill. But as the Post explains--and as various sources close to the debate confirm--Democratic leadership is anticipating Republican amendments and parliamentary measures on the floor that could force a close vote on the issue--with moderate Democrats worried about looking soft on unauthorized immigrants.

The whole episode shows just how much the Republican “government takeover” meme has warped the health-care debate. As I noted earlier this week, unauthorized immigrants are prohibited from receiving any government subsidies on the exchanges. They would simply be buying private insurance plans within the exchange infrastructure that’s set up by government. And, as I’ve argued, the logic of prohibiting unauthorized immigrants from doing so would be akin banning them from buying a tank of gas--another industry heavily subsidized and supported by government infrastructure. 

Such logic has also extended to the abortion debate. Under the original Capps amendment, the bill would have prohibited federal dollars from paying for abortion services in the insurance exchange. Anti-choicers argued such measures weren’t sufficient, as insurers offering abortion services were still participating in an exchange the government set up--which they conveniently translate into meaning “government-funded abortions.” As the Wonkroom asks, should women also be prohibited from traveling on government-funded highways to travel to abortion clinics? The fact that such extreme thinking has gathered steam is a sign of just how effective the conservative opposition has been this week in shaping the debate.