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September 10, 2009


I agree with Brendan that a little heckling is regrettable but no big deal, just as it was no big deal when Democrats did it at Bush's 2005 State of the Union Address. (Of course, in that case it was dozens of Democrats shouting out, not just one Republican, so maybe that makes it less offensive.)

I'm less convinced that Wilson's rude outburst was false. Brendan links to a PolitiFact analysis which appears to be flawed on its face. PolitiFact quotes President Obama's statement and poses its question:

"There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants," Obama said. "This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."

So who's right here? Wilson or Obama?

PolitiFact concludes that Obama is correct, even though it acknowledges that illegal immigrants will in fact likely be able to buy health insurance on the proposed insurance exchange. That means that they'll be buying insurance with no exclusion for pre-existing conditions, no lifetime cap on benefits, etc. Those are all among the reforms that Obama is proposing. That makes his statement plainly untrue.

How does PolitiFact reach a contrary conclusion? By saying that illegal immigrants won't be eligible for subsidized insurance. But Obama's statement, which PolitiFact is parsing, was not limited to subsidization of premiums. (And of course, by making insurance available even to those with pre-existing conditions, there's a different kind of subsidization taking place.)

Wilson's point was probably different. Chances are he was objecting to Democratic opposition to verification of eligibility requirements. But PolitiFact purported to do an analysis of whether or not Obama's statement was false. In order to conclude that Obama's statement was true, it limited and qualified the statement he made. That's the kind of thing we expect of an advocate, not an impartial fact-checker.

Brendan should not be so credulous.

It's not an accident that health reform doesn't verify eligibility. The House Reps offered an amendment to do so, but the Dems voted it down. That vote makes Obama's claim particularly disingenuous IMHO.

In the days when I took and wrote True-False and multiple choice examinations, the rule was that a partially true/ partially false statement was considered False. Under this convention, Obama's half-true statement was False. So Wilson was accurate (albeit rude) when he called it a lie.

Chances are he was objecting to Democratic opposition to verification of eligibility requirements.

I find this obsession with illegal immigrants to be ridiculous. The government won't be subsidizing illegal aliens, period.

Would an illegal alien be able to buy insurance with his own money? Maybe. Just like they are now able to buy food, clothing, medicine, cars, go to the movies, rent houses and buy auto insurance.

Would we want them to spend their own money buying health insurance? Absolutely, considering that they'd otherwise be getting subsidized care every time they arrive with an injury or illness at the emergency room door.

If you want to attack the problem of illegal immigration, do it in an immigration bill. A health care bill shouldn't be a vehicle for enforcement of immigration law.

Jinchi, your third paragraph more or less contradicts your first paragraph. As you point out illegal immigrants (among others) get subsidized care at emergency rooms and will continue to do so under health reform. So, it's incorrect to assert that, "The government won't be subsidizing illegal aliens, period."

I like this new and improved definition of what counts as a subsidy of illegal aliens, even if it means that *everything* is a subsidy.

To be helpful, I have a few more things to be on the look out for:

If a wire shorts out in an illegal alien's apartment and starts a fire, we are subsidizing the illegal alien when the fire department puts out the fire. So have the fire department do citizenship checks before it gets to work on any building. If an illegal alien is murdered, we subside the illegal alien when the police come to solve the crime. So once the police find out it's an illegal alien who was killed, they can stop the investigation.

Let's have checkpoints on every road so that no illegal aliens use a road subsidy. Let's check the citizenship of everyone before they use the ER (since we wouldn't want to accidentally treat someone who's not a citizen.) Let's make sure that when the FDA (or whoever does this) inspects meat and vegetables for various contaminants, they don't inspect the food that goes to illegal aliens.

Now some might say this will cost a great deal of money. Some might say that maybe it's more cost effective to actually just use some money to deal with border security, without putting in restrictions on every single individual government program that on its face might not really be about illegal aliens but about dealing with some other important issue for citizens.

But I say to them, "you lie!"

A few quick points:

1. Jinchi assures us, "The government won't be subsidizing illegal aliens, period." Okay, the government isn't supposed to subsidize illegal aliens, but if we don't check whether they're illegal aliens, how can Jinchi possibly make this kind of blanket assurance?

2. If someone with a pre-existing condition walks across the border illegally and immediately signs up for health insurance, whether public option or private--and pays the full premium--he's still being subsidized by all the healthy persons who are part of the insurance pool. And he's still the beneficiary of Obama's insurance reforms, in the sense that he can obtain that insurance and have it cover him from Day 1. And btw, someone who's gravely ill might come into the country legally (because, for example, he has family members here) and immediately sign up for health insurance--and why the hell wouldn't he? This isn't just an issue about illegal immigrants; it's an issue about covering pre-existing conditions immediately, even for non-citizens.

3. Brendan teases us by stating he believes a public option would end up receiving significant direct or indirect subsidies. I hope he'll take the opportunity to say more in a future blog post.

4. Brendan says that he and Yglesias know what Obama meant, which is apparently more qualified than what Obama actually said. Isn't this where Brendan is supposed to insert a picture of a mind-reading swami?

IMHO it's a measure of media bias that the media went after Wilson to see just what he meant, but they haven't pinned Obama down on what he meant. AFAIK they haven't even tried. We just have to guess.

My guess is different from Brendan's. My guess is that Obama said those words because somebody told him to say them. I don't think he read through the various bills to figure out exactly who would be covered and for for what.

My guess is that whoever put those words into the speech would justify them by pointing out that the health reform bill doesn't explicitly add coverage for illegal immigrants. That is, no provision explicitly says, illegal immigrants will now be covered by this or that aspect.

On Rob's point #4, I think we can credibly infer intent given appropriate context -- my swami graphic is for people who I think are just making it up.

In this case, the White House linked to the Politifact debunking of a viral email that included the claim about insurance for illegal immigrants. He's also made the point at least twice before (here and here), albeit in similarly imprecise language.

Do Brendan's links show Obama using imprecise language, imprecise thinking, or spin? The link to Obama's Aug. 22 address shows him saying, "Let’s start with the false claim that illegal immigrants will get health insurance under reform. That’s not true. Illegal immigrants would not be covered." Brendan apparently assumes that Obama was referring only to health insurance purchased under the public option.

Why not assume that Obama meant what he said? He was editor of Harvard Law Review. He certainly knows how to speak with precision.

My guess is that Obama was purposely exaggerating, believing that the media will let him get away with it.

Not only shouldn't they be able to buy health insurance here, but they shouldn't be able to buy cars, or rent apartments, or any other damned thing, BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE AT ALL. DEPORT THEM!

Shouting "no" is the same thing as shouting "you lie?" While all heckling is regrettable, not all heckling is equivalent.

Also, I didn't hear any "boos" in the video of the 2005 Bush speech.

Here's a better audio clip of it, Daniel.

Rob, another classy conservative, just like the esteemed Joey Wilson of South Carolina.

Just a note that the "Caning" url has some typos in it. It appears that there are 2 spaces at the end.

The correct url is as follows:


Assuming mattn had tongue firmly planted in cheek, I agree completely.

This obsession with preventing illegal immigrants from using of any of America's infrastructure -- this idea that we could somehow ensure that not a single penny of taxpayer money even indirectly benefits illegal immigrants in any way -- seems to me completely impracticable.

And I think equating an illegal immigrant's unsubsidized purchase of insurance or medical services with the government insuring illegal immigrants is completely nonsensical.

Thanks Stephen - link is fixed above.

I agree with Jinchi - stop obsessing over illegal immigration. At least stop doing it in the context of healthcare reform. Immigration is a separate issue and should be treated as such.
The GOP would stand in the way of making healthcare more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans JUST to make sure that no illegal aliens could also get care. Is that really where they want to be on this issue?

Hmmm, Joe Wilson's comments were "misleading" while the president's weren't.

That must be why this has occurred:

Rep. Wilson Outburst Leads Senate Dems to Close Loophole in Health Reform Bill


BTW Brendan, this is the funniest line I've ever seen you blog: "Yglesias and I know what Obama meant; others may not."

Glad to know at least a few people can decipher the President's true meaning from his words - the rest of us remain bewildered!


I agree with Jinchi and Raleighite that illegal immigration is a side issue for health care reform. It has become important because each side has accused the other side of lying about it. Also, any political weapon that works will be used by those who believe that health care "reform" will worsen health care, increase health care costs, aggravate the economic crisis, and reduce our civil liberties.

The White House tonight made a strategic retreat, saying it would bar illegal immigrants from buying insurance through the proposed exchanges and that verification of immigration status would be required. I'm guessing that President Obama said, "If I've lost Nyhan, I've lost middle America."

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