House immigration negotiators report progress on healthcare, but no deal yet

House negotiators seeking bipartisan immigration legislation left a meeting Thursday without a final agreement, but members reported making progress on the key sticking point of healthcare.

“I’m very hopeful,” Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) told reporters after the closed-door meeting in the Capitol.

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The members of the group left to return to their districts, but they appeared to be in roughly the same place as they were a week ago, when seven of the eight negotiators signed on to what they termed an “agreement in principle” on far-reaching immigration legislation.

Labrador said the language dealing with the healthcare treatment of immigrants needed to be written and reviewed, but he said, “I think we’re all good.”

Just a day earlier, the Idaho conservative and other Republicans in the group pointed a finger at the House Democratic leadership, accusing Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and her deputies of holding up the agreement over concerns about the healthcare provision that most in the group had signed off on. Only Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a Pelosi ally, refused to endorse that agreement.

Labrador had said Thursday was a deadline for completing the deal, and he appeared satisfied that enough progress had been made to continue the process.

Asked if there was now an agreement, Labrador replied: “We need to look at the language, and if it’s what I think it is, then yes.”

A Democratic aide sounded an upbeat note after the meeting. "I think they've got a solution that works," the aide said, referring to the healthcare issue.

Staff will draft legislative language during the upcoming congressional recess, and the group would hope to give a final sign-off when they return to Washington in June, the aide said.

Several other members declined comment as they left the meeting. Democrats had already agreed that immigrants in a provisional legal status should not receive any government subsidies for medical treatment or health insurance, but they voiced concerns that the healthcare language could lead to deportation for immigrants who needed emergency treatment but could not pay for it.

“We have continued to work on the healthcare issue, and we are still continuing to work on the healthcare issue,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said after the meeting. “We have to work on the necessary language so that all of the parties understand the concept. 

"We are working so that the immigrants do not become a public charge," Gutiérrez added. "I believe that we can reach language that will satisfy both sides of the aisle on that issue. Access to healthcare will be guaranteed. People will be able to go to the emergency room. They will not be public charge.”

With competing Senate legislation headed to the floor, the House group has been working feverishly in recent weeks to complete its bill, but public sniping by members of the coalition has threatened to unravel four years of negotiations.

As the meeting broke up, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the rest of the House Republican leadership issued a joint statement vowing not to accept the Senate bill without changes.

“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,” the leadership said. “Rather, through regular order, the House will work its will and produce its own legislation.”

The House immigration group is hoping to introduce its bill in early June.

— This story was updated at 5:12 p.m.