When the Affordable Care Act was being written and debated, President Obama took care to emphasize no illegal immigrants would be eligible for its benefits. Obama and the Democrats who passed the bill were sensitive to public concerns that those who entered the United States illegally should not receive assistance intended for those here legally.
"There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants," Obama said in a Sept. 9, 2009 healthcare address to a joint session of Congress. "This, too, is false. The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."
At that moment, Republican Rep. Joe Wilson yelled out, "You lie!" leaving the president and lawmakers stunned.
Wilson's action was inexcusable, but the suspicions behind it were entirely understandable. Republicans have always suspected the administration wanted to extend not only Obamacare but a whole range of federal benefits to illegal immigrants. And now, the president's unilateral executive action on immigration seems to be confirming some of those fears.
On Nov. 11, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell participated in an online chat with a group of Latino bloggers. Burwell was asked a two-part question. Would the young immigrants known as Dreamers be eligible for Obamacare subsidies, and can so-called mixed families -- for example, a family with illegal parents and legal children -- receive benefits?
Dreamers are not eligible, Burwell said. But she left no doubt that she -- along with officials at the highest levels of the Obama administration -- wants that to change.
"I think everyone probably knows this administration feels incredibly strongly about the fact we need to fix that," Burwell explained. "We need to reform the system and make the changes that we need that will lead to benefits in everything from healthcare to economics to so many things -- a very important step that we need to take as a nation."
Republican concerns have been intensified by Obama's slippery language about other federal benefits. In announcing executive action, for example, the president said to those affected that if, among other requirements, "you're willing to pay your fair share of taxes," then "you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law."
The phrase "pay your fair share of taxes" suggests to most ears that Obama meant immigrants involved would pay their fair share of taxes. But in fact Obama's action will make many immigrants eligible to be paid by the government, and not the other way around. Many will now be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit, which could mean they receive thousands of taxpayer dollars each year.
It's not clear exactly how far-reaching the effects of Obama's immigration edict will be. But there's no doubt it has increased the already high level of mistrust between the president and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.