As chief defender on the right of the Senate immigration bill, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has been churning out press releases debunking myths about the bill.
"Remember the ‘Marcophone’ myth? Now we have the Obamacar myth," says a June 25 Rubio press release.
Yep, you read that right: Rubio, a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender, issued a press release claiming that a conservative slam against the Democratic president is a myth.
Rubio’s press release linked to a June 24 article on the conservative news site Breitbart with the headline "New Immigration bill has taxpayer subsidized Obamacars for youths." It featured a photo of a goofy-looking Obama climbing into a car.
"Breitbart News has learned there is a provision included in the immigration bill that could be used to give free cars, motorcycles, scooters or other vehicles to young people around the country over a period of 15 months after the bill passes," the story said. "The new provision is a result of the latest addition to the Corker-Hoeven amendment, which is essentially an entirely new version of the bill."
The claim was made multiple times on the Internet, including on Fox News on June 25. The commentators joked about the alleged car giveaway with contributor Laura Ingraham asking, "I want to know, are Segway scooters part of the deal?’ "
PolitiFact previously examined a claim by bloggers that proposed immigration legislation would give away taxpayer-funded cell phones. We ruled that claim False. That referred to grants aimed at helping American ranchers and others in remote locations along the border get satellite phone service so they can be in touch with authorities.
Are free "Obamacars" another rumor driven off track?
The roots of the car rumor
The Breitbart article related to an amendment filed in June by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., to the Senate immigration bill. Their amendment would double the number of border patrol agents to 20,000, complete 700 miles of fencing, and add E-Verify for employment, among other requirements.
Another amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was tacked on to the Corker-Hoeven amendment, and passed on a procedural vote, 67-27, on June 24.
The Breitbart article credited another conservative publication, the Washington Examiner, for uncovering "the new Obama stimulus program" that was part of the Sanders amendment. The Examiner article stated that a version of the bill would provide $1.5 billion for jobs for American youth, and was a sweetener to get Sanders’ support.
Sanders' intention was to help unemployed young people hit hard by the recession. In a June 21 press release, his office said it was "the least Congress should do in a bill that allows college students from around the world to take jobs that young Americans would otherwise perform."
The Breitbart article relied on an anonymous GOP Senate aide to explain the amendment:"This appears to give states authority to buy, lease or rent motorcycles, cars and scooters or anything kids want to buy to get to and from a job," the GOP aide said.
But the Examiner article and the Sanders press release didn’t mention cars, motorcycles, scooters -- heck, not even a tricycle. So we hit the virtual road in search of some sort of transportation connection.
Sanders amendment would provide transportation ‘services’
A fact sheet about the amendment by Sanders stated that the money for the jobs program would include providing "important services such as transportation and child care, necessary to enable young Americans to participate in job opportunities." Neither the fact sheet nor the amendment defines transportation services.
Rubio’s press release states that transportation services "means the program could provide a service, like a bus ride to a work site, but it cannot provide a car, scooter, motorcycle, or pair of rollerblades."
Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told PolitiFact in an email that "...the key word in the legislation is ‘service.’ That qualifier means that they will be provided ‘services’ and not ‘goods’ as in ‘goods and services’ (a common term when referring to tangibles and intangibles). In practice, it means the program can gives kids a bus pass – but it’s not giving them a car."
Breitbart published a new post in response to Rubio saying his "narrow reading of the bill is unlikely to be applied by the federal government."
We asked Warren Gunnels, senior policy adviser to Sanders, who would decide what could qualify as a transportation service. If the law passed, the U.S. Labor Department would have 20 days to create regulations for the jobs program and states would have 30 days to respond.
Gunnels said that local workforce boards would come up with proposals that would be vetted by states and then submitted to the Labor Department, which would have the final say.
So to believe the Obamacar claim would mean, for example, that a workforce board in Miami would suggest that it would give away free cars or motorcycles, Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administrators would give that the thumbs up, and the Labor Department would declare that engines go. To be fair, it’s not expressly spelled out in the amendment that car/scooter/rollerblade giveaways are a no-no and that bus passes are a cheaper idea, but there is also no proof that the government would give away vehicles.
The transportation and childcare services language is similar to Obama’s American Jobs Act presented to Congress in 2011, which never became law.
Sanders provided PolitiFact a response via his spokesman:
"This amendment addresses a crisis in youth unemployment in this country. The unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds is 24.5 percent and higher for Hispanics and African-Americans. What my amendment says, which is obvious, is that providing a job for a young person is meaningless if they don’t have transportation to be able to get to that job. So the program has the option of providing funding for bus fare or subway tickets or other means of transportation. It is only the wild imagination that we have come to expect from Fox TV that would come up with this preposterous idea that we are buying automobiles for young people."
An amendment by Sanders to the immigration bill would provide a youth jobs program that includes the possibility of transportation and child care services. That prompted conservative news outlets to make claims such as, "New Immigration bill has taxpayer subsidized Obamacars for youths."
Sanders’ amendment doesn’t define in detail what the transportation services would entail. Ultimately if the bill passes, local workforce boards would propose jobs programs that would be signed off by the states and approved by the U.S. Labor Department. There is no proof to support the idea that the program would include free car, motorcycle or scooter giveaways. In fact, that such a process would end up allowing car giveaways seems laughable.
We are putting the brakes on this rumor. Pants on Fire!