Surprising even members of his own party, House Speaker Newt Gingrich Monday said Republicans should reconsider a portion of their “Contract With America” that would deny welfare benefits to most legal immigrants.
“I think we’re going to revisit the question of eliminating legal aliens from ever getting any access to government services after some length of time of being here and paying taxes,” Gingrich told reporters Monday. “I am very pro legal immigration. … I think we would be a very, very self-destructive country if we sent negative signals on legal immigration.”
Gingrich maintained that citizens who sponsor legal immigrants should have a binding three- to five-year commitment to help the people they bring into the country.
As part of the Republicans’ contract, legal immigrants would be denied access to 60 federal programs, including Medicaid, housing assistance, free childhood immunization and subsidized school lunches.
The only legal immigrants who would still receive benefits under the plan would be refugees during their first six years in the United States and legal aliens over 75 who have lived in the country for at least five years.
Republicans estimate that ending benefits to legal immigrants would save almost $22 billion over five years. A Congressional Budget Office report revealed that more than three-quarters of the savings would come from eliminating income assistance and health care to elderly and disabled immigrants.
The Republicans have targeted the money saved for work programs for welfare recipients. If plans to deny benefits to legal immigrants are scuttled, funding for work programs would come from $40 billion in savings garnered from transferring most of the responsibility of welfare programs from the federal government to the states, Gingrich said.
Last week, 30 Republican governors indicated they would accept a five-year cap on federal welfare payments if Washington would let the states administer their own programs.
“It’ll save $40 billion and therefore by decentralizing out of Washington, D.C., we don’t have to adopt the things we’ve talked about,” Gingrich said.
Asked if his suggestion to rethink the legal immigration issue represented a change of heart, he snapped: “It’s new. It’s complex. It changes over time.
“We are not going to get trapped into doing something dumb just so you all can say we’re consistent,” he said.