By Mike Lillis - 06/17/13 08:57 PM EDT
A key Republican in the immigration debate is blaming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the failure of House negotiators to finalize a comprehensive reform bill.
The dissent didn't come from the Democratic negotiators, Diaz-Balart said, but from Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.
"We had an agreement once. And then, unfortunately — and I think it's coming from the Democratic leadership and not from the group that I'm negotiating with … I think it's coming from Nancy Pelosi — we had to reopen the deal," Diaz-Balart said Monday in an interview with MSNBC.
"On a second occasion, we had to reopen the same issue … We had already reached an agreement on a second time. And, again, I think the problem that we're running into is Nancy Pelosi," he added. "I'm not quite sure if she wants a bill."
While the Senate this year was quick to draft a bipartisan immigration reform package and bring it to the floor, House negotiators have lagged without an agreement. For all the focus on citizenship and border security, it's healthcare issues that have been the enduring barrier — issues that prompted Rep. Raúl Labrador (Idaho), one of the GOP negotiators, to walk away from the talks earlier in the month.
The Republicans say Democratic leaders have insisted that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who benefit under the proposal be eligible for subsidized healthcare programs — a benefit many Republicans oppose outright.
"We've only had one outstanding issue, which is the healthcare issue. We've had two agreements on that issue, and both times the folks that I've been negotiating with have had to backtrack on their agreement," Diaz-Balart said. "That's not coming from them; that's coming from likely a higher pay grade."
Pelosi, for her part, has rejected the idea that Democrats are trying to sink any immigration deal in order to maintain the political advantage the party has enjoyed with the ever-growing bloc of Hispanic voters.
"Anybody who would say that I would rather have the issue than the bill just doesn’t know what they’re talking about," Pelosi told reporters Thursday in the Capitol. "This is something that is so glorious for our country that we will have a bill that many of us are willing to swallow — some things that we don’t like about the bill."
Last month, Pelosi had vowed that the House bill would not provide immigrants who came into the country illegally with subsidized healthcare benefits under Medicaid or ObamaCare. She did not mention other taxpayer-funded healthcare programs, however, including Medicare and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Diaz-Balart said Monday that the issue of healthcare subsidies remains the final hurdle to a deal.
"Should the taxpayer be stuck with the bill of the healthcare of the 10 million or 11 million people? Or should those folks who are going to be legalized — earn legalization — should they be responsible for their health care bill?" he asked. "That's the issue we haven't solved yet. I think once we do that, we'll hopefully have a bipartisan proposal."
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), another of the negotiators, predicted recently that the House group will have a deal by the end of this week.
"There's a high-level of confidence that, in the next week or two … we'll be able to present a complement to the Senate bill," Becerra said last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is moving forward with a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. On Tuesday, the panel will mark up legislation to strengthen the enforcement of immigration laws in the nation's interior.
Goodlatte and other Republicans on the panel say the gradual strategy is better than one massive bill because it will allow lawmakers to examine the myriad immigration issues in greater detail. Supporters of the comprehensive approach disagree, arguing that the piecemeal approach risks losing the more controversial provisions of the reform effort.
"When you take a piecemeal, you might get the bad part without the good part," Pelosi warned.
Diaz-Balart is also endorsing the comprehensive, bipartisan approach as the most likely to be successful.
"There's two separate issues here. … The first one, can we get a bipartisan proposal? That's where I think Nancy Pelosi has frankly become part of the problem. … Then, you're talking about the issue of can we pass anything in the House. And that's also gonna be a very difficult issue," he told MSNBC.
"I'm convinced, however, that the best way to pass something is with a bipartisan proposal."