By Russell Berman - 06/05/13 10:50 PM EDT
A bipartisan House immigration group has lost one of its eight members, as conservative Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) informed colleagues Wednesday that he could not sign on to legislation the group hopes to release in the coming weeks.
Labrador told reporters after an hour-long meeting that he was leaving the group because of concerns that the bill would not sufficiently protect taxpayers from footing the healthcare bill of undocumented immigrants.
“We just couldn’t agree on the healthcare,” he continued.
The negotiators have been debating the healthcare language for weeks, and Labrador said that as the most recent addition to a group that had met in secret for four years, he did not want to hold up the completion of far-reaching legislation any longer.
Three Republicans remain in the group of eight: Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), John Carter (R-Texas) and Sam Johnson (R-Texas). Labrador said he was the only member to quit on Wednesday, and both Carter and Diaz-Balart proclaimed the meeting a success without acknowledging Labrador’s departure.
“We have found a way forward,” Carter said.
Diaz-Balart said he was “very optimistic” the group would soon release its long-awaited proposal, but it is unlikely to come this week.
“If they want to agree with the Democrats on something, I don’t think I should stand in their way,” Labrador said of his fellow Republicans. “But I just can’t agree with them.”
Labrador’s departure deprives the group of its most conservative member, and his concerns about the healthcare provision are likely to be echoed by other House conservatives if and when the bill comes out.
As a vocal member of the Tea Party-infused Republican class of 2010, Labrador was seen as key to bringing along other younger House conservatives, playing a similar role to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the Senate’s Gang of Eight.
House Republican leaders have moved toward a piecemeal approach to immigration reform in recent weeks, and Labrador’s departure could add momentum to that push. But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has spoken positively of the bipartisan House group and urged its members to finish legislation soon. Labrador did not say exactly what his next move would be, but he reiterated that he supported the approach of Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) of the House Judiciary Committee, who plans to begin marking up individual immigration bills in the coming weeks.
“There will be a Republican plan that passes the House of Representatives,” Labrador said. “There will be a Republican plan. Whether it is a bipartisan plan or just a separate partisan plan, there will be something that passes the House of Representatives.”
While Democrats within the group had broadly agreed that immigrants in a provisional status should not receive government subsidies for healthcare, Labrador said they had pushed for too many exceptions in recent weeks for him to support.
“It bothers me that they don’t have to pay for their own healthcare,” he said Wednesday. “I believe they should have to pay for their own health insurance. If they’re going to have the benefit of living in the United States – which is a privilege, it’s not a right – they should provide their own health insurance.”
Labrador stressed that he left the group on good terms and said all of his colleagues “acted in good faith.”
“We just have a different philosophy,” he said. “The Democratic Party believes that health insurance is a social responsibility of the nation. I believe that health insurance is an individual responsibility. And that’s a really hard philosophy to mesh.”
Labrador repeated a warning that he and other Republicans have sounded in the last several weeks: It could be the consequences of President Obama’s signature 2010 law that could end up torpedoing the immigration efforts. “I think you’re going to see in the end that this might be the issue that breaks down immigration reform,” he said. “Because it’s all about who is responsible to pay for them. And it shouldn’t be the taxpayer.”
--This report was updated at 7:21 p.m.