WASHINGTON – The chances of a bipartisan immigration reform measure emerging from the House appear to be declining with each side faulting the other for failing to come up with a workable compromise.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) credited the Republican lawmakers he has been negotiating with, particularly Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), with trying to find a solution to the pressing problem of undocumented workers crossing the nation’s borders.
Most House Republicans were “singing from a new and more harmonious hymnal” on immigration until last week, Gutierrez said. Then, he said, the GOP began pushing what Democratic proponents of reform view as draconian measures like the Safe Act, which would make it a crime to be “unlawfully present” in the U.S. and provide state and local officials with the authority to enforce immigration laws.
Republicans are also toeing a tougher line on border security and thus far have refused to go along with any provision that provides a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented workers already in the country. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced this week that he will not bring up for consideration any immigration legislation that fails to carry the support of the majority of the Republican caucus.
While he has acquiesced on a number of issues, Gutierrez said, House Republicans, who constitute a majority in the chamber, have been unwilling to cede ground.
“I ask my Republican colleagues — when is it enough?” Gutierrez said. “But I want to keep things moving forward. So I hold my tongue, work within the bipartisan process and stay with the group. I speak well of Republicans who have partnered with Democrats on a serious bipartisan bill this year. A tough but fair bipartisan bill…is nearly complete. We’re putting aside partisan bickering to solve a difficult policy issue for the American people.”
On the other side, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), another negotiator, said a bipartisan agreement was close but it fell apart twice when Democrats insisted undocumented immigrants be eligible for subsidized healthcare programs. Republicans oppose the idea.
Diaz-Balart said the Democratic negotiators, like Gutierrez, aren’t the problem. Rather he blamed House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, for getting involved, expressing doubt that she wants to reach an immigration accord.
“We’ve only had one outstanding issue, which is the healthcare issue,” Diaz-Balart said on MSNBC this week. “We’ve had two agreements on that issue and both times the folks that I’ve been negotiating with have had to backtrack on their agreement. That’s not coming from them — that’s coming from likely a higher pay grade.”
Pelosi rejected the notion, noting that putting agreements into legislative language “so that with the principles that they agree to, are that that language, when translated to legislative language is what everybody understood it to be” can be a difficult process.
“I keep saying that because it’s really important for us to have an immigration bill,” Pelosi said. “I think that anybody who would say that I would rather have the issue than the bill just doesn’t know what they’re talking about. This is something that is so glorious for our country that we will have a bill that many of us are willing to swallow. Some things that we don’t like about the bill, some terrible poison pills, but not deadly, and that we’ll make progress on it.”
Regardless, negotiations over healthcare benefits have created some fissures. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who played a key role in the talks, withdrew from the so-called House Group of Eight piecing the legislation together when members couldn’t resolve who would be responsible for the healthcare costs of undocumented illegal immigrants.