Revisiting The “You Lie” Lie


To revisit last night’s action, the President said this:

THE PRESIDENT: There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms — the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

REP JOE WILSON: You lie! (Boos.)

THE PRESIDENT: It’s not true. And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up — under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place. (Applause.)

Brendan Nyhan bends over backwards to construct an interpretation of the situation such that Rep Wilson is merely being highly misleading rather than telling an outright falsehood:

Obama is clearly referring to the false claim that health care reform would provide free health insurance to illegal immigrants. Many people may interpret Wilson’s outburst as a defense of this claim (it’s impossible to know what he was thinking). However, as Rob correctly points out, Obama’s reforms would apply to everyone — including illegal immigrants — who purchases coverage through health insurance exchanges, including from a proposed government insurance program known as the public option. If you define the public option as insuring someone and describe it as a reform, then Obama’s statement could be seen as misleading and Wilson’s point could be seen as more supportable.



In other words, though the bills would prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving any taxpayer assistance in purchasing health insurance, the proposals on the table don’t do anything special to prevent an undocumented immigrant from buying health insurance with his own money. To characterize this as “insur[ing] illegal immigrants” strikes me as about on a par with claiming that Obama’s health care plans give ibuprofen to illegal immigrants. After all, nothing in the bill stops illegal immigrants from buying ibuprofen in a store! And the very same FDA regulations that assure citizens and legal residents and tourists of the safety of ibuprofen will also benefit illegal immigrants.