- Associated Press - Thursday, September 22, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey has launched a new line of attack in immigration politics against his Democratic challenger Katie McGinty, accusing her of supporting welfare for immigrants living illegally in the United States.

Two new campaign TV ads this month play off McGinty’s support for a federal immigration bill that Toomey opposed but that passed in the Senate with the help of 14 of his fellow Republicans. The bill, supported by President Barack Obama, would have created a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants in the country without legal documentation. But it died in the House, helping ensure that immigration politics would play a role in this year’s national elections.

One Toomey ad says McGinty’s liberal agenda includes “citizenship for illegal immigrants, making them eligible for welfare.” Another says McGinty is a champion for “welfare for illegals.” The “welfare for illegals” slogan is also playing in an online ad placed by the Toomey campaign.

The federal legislation did not make immigrants immediately eligible for government benefits programs, such as cash assistance or food stamps. For some programs, it would take immigrants more than a decade to become eligible.

However, a Congressional Budget Office analysis projected an immediate increase in spending on health care programs and tax credits for lower-income working households - about $240 billion over a decade - that are available to immigrants who have legal work status.

The McGinty campaign likened Toomey’s attack to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s pronouncements on immigration.

“Pat Toomey and Donald Trump are kindred spirits when it comes to fear mongering, division and outright lying to voters,” the McGinty campaign said.

The campaign also noted that the federal legislation would have doubled funding for the border patrol.

The bill also had support from Pennsylvania’s Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, as well as several Republican senators who are in tough re-election battles this year, including New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Arizona’s John McCain, Illinois’ Mark Kirk and Florida’s Marco Rubio.

McCain will be in Delaware County on Friday to campaign for Toomey. Another Republican senator who voted for it, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, headlined January’s Pennsylvania Republican Party winter meeting at Toomey’s invitation.

When Toomey voted against the 2013 bill, he did not cite welfare in his statements to reporters. Rather, he argued that it lacked adequate legal immigration and guest-worker provisions for low-skilled workers.

“Instead of taking a page straight from Donald Trump’s playbook, Pat Toomey should come clean to his constituents how he could oppose bipartisan legislation that would have enhanced our national security,” the McGinty campaign said.

The TV ads are the latest way Toomey has brought immigration politics into the race. For much of the campaign, he has criticized McGinty’s tacit support for Philadelphia’s “sanctuary city” policy, under which police do not automatically detain for federal authorities those immigrants who don’t have legal documentation.

“Katie McGinty’s positions would allow criminal illegal immigrants off the hook in sanctuary cities, and would grant citizenship to other illegal immigrants, making them eligible for welfare of numerous types,” the Toomey campaign said. “Those positions are terrible for public safety and for taxpayers.”

Toomey’s use of the word “welfare” is debatable.

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation in Washington said the traditional understanding of welfare is a government program for the poor or unemployed that helps pay for their food, housing or medical costs.”

C. Eugene Steuerle of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, also in Washington, said in its strictest definition, welfare is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides cash to poor families with children. But there is a much larger, vaguely defined social welfare budget that could include Social Security and Medicare, Steuerle said.

“You really have this gigantic hodge-podge of programs, all sort of adopted one at a time, not often well-coordinated,” Steuerle said. “So one’s views on this tend to vary greatly.”

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