Support for immigration reform heats up as time runs out

Support for immigration reform heats up as time runs out

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President Obama and other supporters of immigration reform see an open road on Capitol Hill toward passing legislation and have stepped up efforts with less than 20 working days left in this legislative session.

The White House confirmed Monday that Obama will hold a Roosevelt Room meeting on immigration reform, after a Republican senator influential in getting such legislation passed in his chamber expressed optimism that the Republican-led House could be poised to follow.

The administration has not released the names of the meeting attendees. But Press Secretary Jay Carney, in confirming the session, suggested the White House will continue to tout reform support from both political parties and big business, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Immigration reform will reduce the deficit by $850 billion over the first 20 years," Carney told reporters. "It's good for the economy and the right thing to do. We hope the House will follow the Senate and take action."

A Senate Budget Committee spokesman said Carney delivered the talking points used by the business lobbyists pushing this immigration plan. 

"But what does the Congressional Budget Office's report actually show?" he asked. "The immigration plan would increase on-budget deficits, spike unemployment and slash workers' wages. The White House is offering its full-throated endorsement of a plan to displace millions of low-income U.S. workers at a time of crippling joblessness."

Exactly how House leaders will address immigration reform has re-emerged as one of the biggest questions in Washington, with just 17 working days remaining on their legislative calendar.  

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, says the big Capitol Hill lobbying effort last week by business, religious and law-enforcement leaders appears to have jump started a purported House plan that could get support from the chamber's small-but-powerful conservative caucus because it would not provide a "special" path to citizenship for the country's estimated 11 million illegal residents.

"I think that we've got a good shot at a breakthrough there," Flake told the Arizona Republic. "The House can move this as fast as they want if they decide to do this. There is time and space on the calendar between now and the end of the year, if we decide we can do it."

The Senate passed legislation this summer that creates a new -- or special -- 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that includes background checks and paying back taxes and penalties while not having to first return to their native country for a waiting period.

However, many conservatives say living in the United States illegally and being allowed to stay until achieving citizenship is "amnesty."

Flake says the House's step-by-step plan would allow so-called "dreamers" -- young people brought to the United States illegally as children -- to stay. And the older illegal population could try to achieve citizenship through existing or non-special channels such as their children or employer sponsors, according to the newspaper.

A Senate GOP staffer said the concern is whether incremental House measures -- starting with border security -- get passed and implemented in succession or simply passed and packaged in a way that would make them essentially tantamount to the Senate's comprehensive bill.

Some of that concern was belied last week when Texas GOP Rep. Michael McCaul said he would not let chamber negotiators meet with their Senate counterparts in conference, amid concerns they could get steam rolled by upper chamber leaders like Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

"I am not going to go down the road of conferencing with the Senate bill and I told [House Speaker John] Boehner that he needs to stand up and make that very clear," McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham. "We're not going to conference with the Senate period."

Still, critics fear the bills could be combined through other legislative tactics and that anything given Senate approval would have enough support from rank-and-file Republicans to get a floor vote and enough Democratic support for passage.

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