Obamacare’s Latest Victim: Immigration Reform

Apparently Republicans don’t think they need to pass immigration reform to keep their House majority in 2014. That was the message Speaker John Boehner delivered this week –- although the wording was slightly different.

“The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House,” Boehner said. “And frankly, I’ll make clear that we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”

A “1,300-page bill that no one had ever read” is one way to describe a complex piece of legislation that was publicly debated over many months before ultimately passing the Senate with 68 votes. No one could accuse Boehner of passing similarly momentous laws through the House.

Unwilling or unable to follow the Senate’s bipartisan effort -- Tea Party intransigence is stronger, and more consequential, in the House -- Boehner appears to have decided to take time off from the nettlesome issue of immigration reform to return to House Republicans’ old standby: attacking Obamacare.

If the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s troubles continue, Republicans hope to ride the Democrats’ pain to victory in the 2014 midterm elections. If those troubles begin to ease, however, and Obamacare gradually gains its footing, the House leadership will find itself back in familiar territory -- scrambling for another excuse to avoid legislating on a substantively complex and politically difficult issue.

Unfortunately, the House version of “Groundhog Day” lacks the original’s charm. While the House is trying to avoid addressing a tough problem, U.S. businesses remain subject to scattershot policies that fail to deliver the right workers to the industries that need them. Immigrant families must work -- and live -- in fear of being deported and losing all. And young people with ambition, many of them Americans in all but paperwork, live in legal limbo.

A new poll reveals just how out of sync Boehner’s stance is with the nation. Only 19 percent of Americans agree that immigrants “mostly take jobs away from American citizens,” while 63 percent say immigrants mostly take jobs Americans don’t want. Similarly, 56 percent disagree with a claim that immigrants are a “threat to traditional American customs and values.”

Yet Boehner not only refuses to put the Senate bill on the House floor, where it would probably pass, but also is unwilling even to negotiate with senators in a conference committee. What explains his reluctance?

Unfortunately, Boehner’s House responds to only one type of incentive: politics. And right now, the hapless rollout of Obamacare is giving House Republicans more than enough room to outrun their responsibilities to immigration. As it turns out, more than the fate of Obamacare may hinge on fixing HealthCare.gov. Immigration reform may depend on it, too.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.