The Senate’s bipartisan immigration working group split along party lines during a contentious budget vote to prevent illegal immigrants who receive legal status from receiving federal health benefits.
The Senate early Saturday morning defeated the amendment to the budget resolution which would have put the Senate on record as opposing access to health care under Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act for undocumented immigrants who get a green card.
The amendment, which failed 43 to 56, was offered by Senate Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
All Democrats — including gang members Dick Durbin of Illinois, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado — opposed the amendment. They were joined by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. All other Republicans — including immigration negotiators Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona — supported the amendment.
The “gang of eight” has been negotiating a comprehensive immigration overhaul package that they hope to unveil when the Senate returns the week of April 8 from spring recess.
Sessions contended the vote bodes poorly for the state of negotiations.
“The result of today’s vote places immigration reform in jeopardy,” Sessions said.
Immigration overhaul advocates, including the National Council of La Raza, said Friday that they would be monitoring what they contend to be any anti-immigrant votes and put members of both parties on notice that their votes would be remembered come Election Day.
During debate, Sessions argued that illegal immigrants who are given legal status in the future should not be eligible for these health care benefits.
“If a person is in our country illegally and they are rewarded with some legal status, do they then immediately become eligible for federal health care benefits,” Sessions said. “It’s a different situation than someone who came legally and has got legal status.”
After the vote Sessions said in a release that the failure to adopt his amendment “will dramatically accelerate the insolvency of our entitlement programs and is unfair to American workers and taxpayers.”
Menendez said the amendment was not needed because the group was working on a plan that would have to be approved by the Senate.
“Nothing is contemplated to change what the senator is concerned about in our negotiations,” Menendez said. He added that any change to the immigration laws “would have to come before this body before in fact it could be changed.”
The Senate approved by voice vote an amendment offered by Menendez that restates current law that illegal immigrants are not eligible for the federal health care programs.
Menendez also warned that adoption of the Sessions amendment could disturb immigration negotiations and goes against the stated desire of the Republican National Committee, which urged Republicans to do a better job of appealing to immigrants, including embracing a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
Negotiation on the immigration law “is currently being done in a bipartisan fashion,” Menendez said. “The last thing we need to do in this budget process is to try muck that up.”
He continued, “This is not a great way to try to do your out reach to the Hispanic and immigrant community.”
Sessions and other Republicans had teed up other amendments on immigration — including one that would prevent illegal immigrants, or illegal immigrants granted legal status, from qualifying for refundable tax credits, including tax credits designed to help low-income families. But the Senate did not vote on that or others before narrowly passing the budget, shortly before 5 a.m. Saturday, on a 50-49 vote.