“We’ve had good meetings,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the group, on Thursday. “There are tough issues, but we’re moving.”
The secret bipartisan negotiations are delicate and fragile, a point put in stark relief Friday as a top official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned that the organization’s efforts to come to terms with labor unions on the contentious issues of a new visa program for foreign workers has stalled.
Randel Johnson, the chamber’s vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits, said the chamber has been pushing for 400,000 new visas for foreign workers, which has been met with fierce resistance by labor officials, who propose a far lower number.
The high-stakes negotiations are central to President Obama’s pledge to push a comprehensive immigration bill through Congress this year. The White House has said it supports the Senate’s effort to craft a bill, and the administration has been trying to give the group time to work out a compromise proposal. But Obama has vowed to offer his own detailed legislation if the efforts in Congress get bogged down.
The Senate group has received most of the public attention on the issue because the group unveiled its effort with great fanfare. But there is also progress in the Republican-led House, long seen as the tougher political challenge for any immigration proposal.
The four Republicans involved in an eight-member bipartisan House group briefed House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) Friday, informing him that the group is nearing a deal. That followed a meeting between the group’s four Democrats and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Friday that the group is now “weeks not months” from producing legislation. “This has a momentum of its own,” he said of talks in both chambers.
Boehner’s input will be key for determining how the House group proceeds. He has been supportive of the talks but has said action should begin in the Senate.
Advocates believe that a convincing vote for passage in the Senate could put pressure on a potentially more resistant House to act. Still, that would not preclude the House group from unveiling legislation while the Senate works.
A spokesman for Boehner said the group had a “good talk” with the House members, who must have more meetings with relevant committees before moving ahead.
“They’ve made real progress on a tough issue,” said spokesman Michael Steel.