THE LATEST LINE IN THE SAND
Congressional Republicans last week unveiled a list of principles that House leaders have said would guide any new immigration-reform legislation this year.
Most of it is pretty much what you'd expect—secure the border before doing anything else!—but the key question has always been what the GOP would do about a path to citizenship for undocumented people who are now in the country.
Here's the answer: They are endorsing a type of DREAM Act for young people—"It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, those who know no other place as home"—but adults are out of luck. They will be allowed to remain in the U.S. but will not be eligible for citizenship.
"There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation's immigration laws — that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law," the document reads. "Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program."
The documents shows that GOP leaders want to take some kind of position on immigration reform, recognizing that just ignoring the Senate's Gang of Eight proposal from last summer will continue to alienate the growing demographic of Latino voters, along with young voters who are less worried about the browning of America. But Republican leaders don't want to alienate their own base, which wants to keep all those immigrants from ever getting the right to vote (and generally opposes the idea of working with the Obama administration on anything).
So GOP leaders are splitting the difference: They'll agree to allow undocumented immigrants to stay here as long as they pass background checks and remain ineligible for programs that provide health care or food stamps or other such aid. Message: We'll stop sending the cops after you but don't expect any other help.
Democrats generally welcomed the GOP's proposal as a step in ongoing negotiations, but many expressed skepticism about whether a deal was possible if House Republicans didn't move a little more in their direction.
Southern Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-CD3) said he was "encouraged to see forward progress on immigration reform, but this document raises more questions than it answers and I wouldn't be representing my constituents effectively if I didn't say so."
Grijalva complained that the GOP plan's focus on additional border security "emphasizes the same failed crackdown efforts that have torn families apart and brought us no closer to a solution" and questioned how it "advances the interests of border communities sick and tired of drones, wire fences and a siege mentality."
THE IRS IS GOING TO DO WHAT NOW?
The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" in an effort to discourage private insurance companies from offering abortion coverage.
Under the Hyde Amendment, current federal law prohibits tax dollars from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. That means if you're a low-income woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy, you can't count on Medicaid to cover the costs except in the above circumstances. (Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin got tangled up in the whole "legitimate rape" trouble in 2012 because Republican lawmakers were working to redefine rape under the provisions of the Hyde Amendment.)
But the Hyde Amendment's limits don't go far enough for abortion opponents, who are now targeting insurance coverage of abortion. Basically, they are arguing that companies that provide abortion coverage as part of their employee benefits should not get a tax deduction for that expense, because allowing the tax break is subsidizing—albeit in a small way—abortion services. And now that people are getting subsidies to buy health insurance on the exchanges, anti-abortion activists say that tax dollars are subsidizing abortion if the insurance coverage includes the procedure. The bill also prohibits anyone from using their "flex spending plan" to cover the cost of an abortion.
So H.R. 7—aka the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act"—is designed to discourage employers and citizens from purchasing plans that cover abortion, which in turn will discourage insurance companies from providing the coverage, although people could buy entirely separate abortion coverage.
Republican backers of the legislation don't want headlines that accuse them of wanting women who were raped or were victims of incest to have to pay for abortions out of their own pocket, so they've included a provision saying that you can deduct the medical expenses of an abortion if you fit one of those categories.
But critics—such as Joann Weiner, who wrote about the legislation last week in the Washington Post—say that provision would put the IRS in charge of determining whether the abortion was legitimately tax-deductable, so women might have to report to the tax man about whether they were raped if they wanted to use flex funds to pay for the procedure.
The legislation isn't likely to go anywhere, at least as long as Barack Obama is in the White House. The Obama administration released a statement last week stating that it "strongly opposes legislation that unnecessarily restricts women's reproductive freedoms and consumers' private insurance options." "If the President were presented with H.R. 7, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill," the statement concludes.
Southern Arizona Democrats voted against the bill.
"This bill is the furthest thing from the American people's needs, wants or interests, and I think the majority knows it," Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-CD3) said in a press release after the vote. "If this is the tone they want to set for 2014, that's their prerogative, but my progressive colleagues and I are going to keep working to create jobs."
Congressman Ron Barber (D-CD2) denounced the legislation on the House floor.
"I stand in support of every woman's right to be able to choose what is best for her and her family," Barber said. "And I stand ready to protect and preserve the ability of every woman to make her own health care decisions with her doctor and without—without—the interference of politicians in Washington."
Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick (D-CD1) voted against the legislation. Kirkpatrick spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson told The Skinny via email that the vote "was yet another dead-end attempt by the far right to have the government make decisions that belong between a woman and her doctor."
The three Republicans competing for a chance to challenge Kirkpatrick this year—House Speaker Andy Tobin, state Rep. Adam Kwasman and rancher/oilman/hotelier Gary Kiehne—would have voted in favor of the legislation.
Tobin considers HR 7 to be "the right move," according to his campaign manager, Craig Handzlik.
"As a pro-life conservative, Tobin authored and passed Arizona's ban on partial birth abortion," Handzlik told The Skinny via email. "He voted against ObamaCare and passed Arizona's Healthcare Freedom of Choice Act."
Kwasman said that he supports the legislation and brushed aside concerns about involving the IRS in determining whether an abortion qualified as deduction.
"I have nothing but tremendous sympathy for those who are victims of such a horrific nature," Kwasman told us in an online exchange. "It is important that those in the Republican Party work harder to express understanding and care toward women while also protecting the unborn."
Kiehne opposes the use of any tax dollars for abortion services, according to campaign manager Chris Baker.
"Had he been in Congress, he would have voted for the legislation," Baker said via text message.
Representatives for Republican candidates who want to face Barber in Congressional District 2—Martha McSally, Shelley Kais and Chuck Wooten—did not return requests for comment from the Weekly.
Jim Nintzel hosts AZ Illustrated Politics, airing at 6:30 p.m. every Friday on PBS 6. The program repeats on 12:30 a.m. Saturday.