Immigration group in the House facing make-or-break moment

A bipartisan House immigration group faces a make-or-break meeting Thursday night in search of an agreement, with Republicans saying they will move ahead on legislation without Democrats if a deal is not struck.

“I want it finished tomorrow night,” Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) told reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve got bipartisan agreement on 95 percent of the bill. I don’t know why we can’t get the rest of it.”

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The effort has come to a head and could be on the verge of failure after more than four years of secretive, on-and-off talks aimed at producing a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system.

Carter said the Thursday meeting would be the last gathering of the group that he would attend, and a second Republican member, Rep. Raúl Labrador (Idaho), later told reporters he was in a similar place.

“We have to make a decision, and if Democrats are unwilling to put certain issues aside, like we have had to as Republicans, then we probably just need to proceed forward with a Republican bill,” Labrador said.

Members have said for months that the group is close to a deal, but have been unable to overcome differences on a guest-worker program and on how immigrants will be treated under the healthcare reform law.

With the Senate moving its own comprehensive immigration overhaul, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said last week that the House coalition would have to complete its bill by the end of May to be viable.

A frustrated Carter said if Democrats did not sign on to the bill, he might introduce it on his own, perhaps with the other Republicans in the group.

“We’re not waiting on them,” he said. “Tomorrow night as far as I’m concerned is the last night I’m going to meet.”

Republicans in the House group have balked at a deal struck by business and labor groups on an agricultural guest-worker visa program, which formed the basis for language in the Senate Gang of Eight bill. Democrats have warned that if they don’t stick to that agreement in the House, the entire immigration push could unravel.

Republicans are also worried about the cost implications of adding millions of immigrants to the rolls of ObamaCare, and Carter acknowledged that remained a sticking point.

“We initially said that anyone that was going to be allowed to stay in our country and broke into our country would have to provide for their own healthcare,” he said.

“They want it on ObamaCare, and we don’t think putting 11 million people on ObamaCare is a good thing to do.”

Democratic aides on Wednesday warned that Republicans were walking away from the table, and said the GOP negotiators had shifted after the Senate introduced a bipartisan bill more favorable to immigration reform advocates.

“Since the Senate bill came out, House Republicans have felt the need to tack to the right and move the goal posts, including parts that had been already been agreed to like the business and labor deal,” a Democratic aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “This is purely cover to walk away and try to shift blame to Democrats, which is ridiculous because we’re not the ones standing in the way of moving reform. We’ve been willing to go a long way to help them reach a compromise to make this happen.”

Labrador said “no one’s walking away,” and pinned the blame for the impasse on Democrats being unwilling to break with their special interest constituencies.

“You just need to ask the Democrats if they are willing to, for the first time, put Hispanic groups ahead of the unions and ahead of ObamaCare,” he said. “If they’re not willing to do that, then immigration reform will not work.”

— This story was updated at 7:40 p.m.