Immigration Bill Falling Apart in House Working Group

Disagreements over unions and health care dragging House immigration negotiations South.

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The immigration reform package the House's bipartisan working group agreed to in principle last week seems to be unraveling.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, says old Democratic ghosts like unions and health care could sink the group's delicate immigration deal.

"Obama promised as a presidential candidate that he was going to make it his number one priority, but now we are learning that Obamacare and labor groups are his number one priorities," Labrador says. "The pressure is coming from on high."

Labrador says that most in the group had been acting in good faith until earlier Tuesday. However, disagreements from Democratic leadership over whether the 11 million immigrants who came to the country illegally should be eligible for health care subsidies remained a sticking point.

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"The number one issue Americans are concerned about is border security and the number two issue they are concerned about is getting stuck with the bill for the 11 million," Labrador says. "If they are not willing to do what is necessary for border security or ensure the American people that they are not going to be stuck with the bill, then there is no sense in doing immigration reform. All they want is an amnesty bill and nothing else."

Sources close to the negotiations confirm that the bill is in step with the Senate's "gang of eight" in many ways, but will provide a 15-year path - instead of a 13-year path - to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who came to the country illegally and will not address the issue of future flow for low-skilled workers. Democrats in the group will introduce a plan that looks like the deal the Senate reached with the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce. Republicans, on the other hand, believe those quotas set a low number of workers and will introduce legislation with higher future-flow numbers.

Reports began surfacing Monday that Democratic leaders were concerned that those within the House working group were surrendering too many party principles before the legislation even made its way to GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee, where it was destined to move even further to the right.

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"Democratic leadership is in a fuss," says a source close to the negotiations. " Democrats seem to be dealing with this as a moral issue. They think if they slow walk a House bill that the Senate will garner enough votes to pass their bill and the House will have to pick it up."

But that may be short sighted as GOP members of the House working group say the Senate bill, even if it received overwhelming support on the Senate floor, would still face an onslaught of conservative amendments once it landed in the House.

Labrador said that if the working group cannot agree with Democrats over health care, Republican members may have to proceed without them and write their own bill.

"The Senate bill is not going to get through the House of Representatives unless it is amended substantially. I think it is important that the House has its own product," Labrador says. "Democratic leadership has to decide whether they want a policy that will pass Congress or whether they want to continue to have a political fight. So far, what I have seen from Democrats is that it is their way or the highway."

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Pundits say that if House Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on a bill, the entire immigration process is put in limbo.

"The chances will be critically improved [if they get a deal]. There is history there, there is trust there. Both are going to have to swallow a pill that they didn't want to have to swallow, but that adds credibility to the bill," says Brad Bailey, a Republican who works to build consensus around immigration issues on Capitol Hill.

In the Senate, which is working on its own bill, the House version offered another opportunity to build bipartisan consensus on immigration reform.