Nathan Burchfiel | Staff Writer | Wednesday, September 26, 2007
"The Democrat SCHIP bill changes current law which prevents taxpayer dollars from going to illegal immigrants by including a gaping loophole to allow states to give taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants," Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn,) said in a letter to her colleagues Tuesday.
She was referring to a bill that would reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), created in 1997 to pay for health coverage for poor children. The program is set to expire Sept. 30.
Democrats on Monday evening unveiled the conference report, which irons out differences between the House and Senate versions. The proposed expansion would provide an addition $34.7 billion for the program to include children in families with incomes twice the federal poverty level, which Republicans argue is a first step toward government-run health care.
They are also complaining about provisions that could open coverage to illegal immigrants by loosening standards for proving legal status.
The bill mandates that "in lieu of requiring the individual to present satisfactory documentary evidence of citizenship or nationality ... establish a program under which the State submits each month to the Commissioner of Social Security for verification the name and Social Security number of each individual enrolled in the State plan."
Republicans argue that because Social Security numbers do not denote citizenship - the cards can be issued to non-citizens, including immigrants in the United States temporarily - the new standard would open coverage to non-citizens and possibly illegal immigrants.
Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) said in his letter to colleagues that the proposal "defrauds the American taxpayer out of billions of dollars" because "an individual could simply steal your name and Social Security number and use it to access thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded benefits."
In a letter to Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.) on Monday, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue wrote that the proposal "would not provide for verification of citizenship but would create a conclusive presumption based on less reliable data that a person is a citizen."
Astrue said the name and Social Security number verification system would not verify that the persons submitting the name and number was who they claimed to be, nor would it prevent an illegal immigrant from fraudulently using another person's valid name and matching Social Security number to obtain Medicaid or SCHIP benefits.
Deal encouraged his colleagues to vote against the expansion of SCHIP and called on Democratic leaders to "develop a bipartisan, long-term reauthorization that will actually uphold our existing immigration laws."
Republican aides are also grumbling about the timing of the SCHIP bill. In an e-mail to Cybercast News Service, one aide complained that Republicans received the 300-page bill after 6:30 pm Monday and congressmen were expected to be ready to debate the bill Tuesday.
Aides also complained that the bill was submitted under a closed rule, meaning no amendments could be offered and debate would be severely limited.
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Democrats used similar tactics when trying to get the original House version of the bill passed. In July, Democrats introduced their 465-page bill with only 10 days before the scheduled start of the August recess.
President Bush has threatened to veto an expansion of SCHIP, saying he would support a reauthorization of the program but that expanding it leads toward government-run socialized medicine.
Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article.
E-mail a comment or news tip to Nathan Burchfiel