House immigration plan's near death experience
A House bipartisan immigration plan survived a near collapse Thursday, after negotiators reached agreement on a controversial sticking point over health care costs for undocumented workers.
Last week four House Democrats and four House Republicans who have been working for months on a comprehensive immigration reform plan announced an "agreement in principle," but in recent days that deal appeared to be in jeopardy. A partisan split emerged over how to ensure taxpayer dollars at both the federal and state level would not be used to cover the health care for undocumented immigrants who can't afford to pay for it on their own.
GOP members worried state or local governments would be stuck with the costs and Democrats were concerned an undocumented worker who was seriously injured or diagnosed with cancer and couldn't pay for insurance would be deported.
Earlier on Thursday one key GOP member of the group - Rep Raul Labrador, R-Idaho - threatened to quit the group and move forward writing his own immigration bill if the group failed to reach a final deal by the end of the day.
Leaving the meeting Labrador said he was satisfied that new proposal met his test that taxpayer funds wouldn't be used, though he wouldn't provide details.
"I'm very hopeful," Labrador told reporters, saying he still needed to review final language, but believed the group was on track to formally introduce legislation next month.
Illinois Democratic Rep Luis Gutierrez said both sides "resolved" the health care issue.
"We are working so that the immigrants do not become a public charge and I believe that we can reach language that can satisfy both sides of the aisle on that issue. Access to health care will be guaranteed - people will be able to go to an emergency room. They will not be a public charge. We can get this done."
In addition to Labrador and Gutierrez the other members of the "group of eight" include Rep Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, Rep John Carter, R-Texas, Rep Sam Johnson, R-Texas, Rep Xavier Becerra, D-California, Rep Zoe Lofgren, D-California, and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky.
As the health care issue emerged as a possible deal killer earlier this week, Labrador and other House Republicans accused Democrats of reneging on earlier framework, and suggested Democratic leaders weren't serious about getting a deal and instead wanted to use lack of progress as a political issue in the next election. Several GOP members argued Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi didn't like the deal her own members were discussing and forced them to pull back.
Pelosi pushed back strongly at that on Thursday saying the specific health care concern for undocumented immigrants was something that came up when Democrats negotiated the health care law in 2010. She insisted Democrats still oppose using any government funding for health care for the 11 million undocumented workers.
"No access to subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. Secondly, no access to Medicaid. No cost to the taxpayer and that has always been the Democratic position. So any thought that we want to do something than that is simply not true," Pelosi said.
But House Speaker John Boehner put the blame for damaging the group's efforts on both parties.
"There are people on both sides of the aisle who've done their best to try to undermine their ability to get to an agreement," Boehner said at his weekly press conference on Thursday.
While Boehner stressed the House would put its own stamp on immigration as the Senate bill moved toward a floor vote, he suggested he wasn't confident the bipartisan working group could finish, saying "I think they've done good work. It's -- whether they actually finish and agree on everything or not; they've done a lot of really good work"
But later Boehner, and the other three top House Republican leaders released a joint statement, emphasizing the House would take its own path on immigration.
"The House remains committed to fixing our broken immigration system, but we will not simply take up and accept the bill that is emerging in the Senate if it passes. Rather, through regular order, the House will work its will and produce its own legislation," the GOP leaders said.
A bipartisan Senate immigration bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary committee earlier this week and is expected to be considered by the full Senate next month.
Gutierrez said he was confident the House members would also move forward with its own product.
"We are still a group, we are still working. Much has been said about the demise of this process. I continue to be optimistic. You can delay it you can deter it but ultimately there's going to be justice for immigrants," Gutierrez said.
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