Immigration another obstacle for ObamaCare?

Last year, Barack Obama pledged to pursue immigration reform in 2010 in what was widely acknowledged as a midterm-election strategy to split the Republicans and anger Hispanic voters.  Of course, that required closing the deal on ObamaCare first, which has run aground at the moment in snarls of parliamentary procedure, concerns over abortion and taxation of union benefit plans, and strong disapproval from voters.  Now, in a little taste of karma, immigration has reared its head as another obstacle for Obama’s primary domestic agenda issue:

A group of Hispanic lawmakers on Thursday will tell President Barack Obama that they may not vote for healthcare reform unless changes are made to the bill’s immigration provisions.

The scheduled meeting comes as Democratic leaders and the White House are struggling to craft a final bill that will attract 216 votes in the lower chamber. …

Since last fall, Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) members have kept quiet, at least publicly, about their objections to the immigration provisions in the Senate bill.

The Senate language would prohibit illegal immigrants’ buying healthcare coverage from the proposed health exchanges. The House-passed bill isn’t as restrictive, but it does — like the Senate bill — bar illegal immigrants from receiving federal subsidies to buy health insurance.

Hispanic Democrats say they haven’t moved from their stance that they will not vote for a healthcare bill containing the Senate’s prohibitions.

The Senate didn’t write that provision out of spite.  People buying health insurance in the exchanges have access to federal subsidies, as much as $10,000 per year, to assist in buying health coverage.  Despite what The Hill reports here, the House refused to add an amendment that would have created an enforcement mechanism to ensure that illegal immigrants didn’t get subsidies.  (So did the Senate, initially.) The Senate eventually decided, wisely, that voters already unhappy with the entire government takeover of health care in the country would revolt if their tax dollars went to subsidize coverage for people illegally residing in the US.

This problem cannot be resolved through the reconciliation process.  It’s not a budgetary issue, at least not directly.  This is a policy issue, and that would require a new vote in the Senate.  If Pelosi can’t get the CHC to get back on board, then reconciliation is a dead strategy, and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid may as well call for a conference committee instead.

The question is how serious the CHC threat really is.  There are 24 members in this bloc, not as large as the Congressional Black Caucus, but significant enough to derail ObamaCare.  Every member was a yes vote the first time around, on the House version, of course.  They have remained very quiet about this issue until very late in the game.  Are they really taking a stand on principle — or are they putting pressure on Pelosi and Obama to jump into immigration reform now in order to get amnesty and render the entire question moot?  I’d bet on the latter, and take this threat with a large grain of salt.

Update: John from Verum Serum sees it the other way around: Obama took them for granted and now dangles immigration reform to jolly them back on board.  We’ll see.