House Speaker John A. Boehner on Thursday flatly ruled out chances of the House passing the Senate’s immigration bill, saying his chamber will debate its own bill instead.
The Ohio Republican and his top lieutenants in the party issued a joint statement that seemed designed to tamp down some of the momentum behind the Senate bill, which emerged from a committee on a bipartisan 13-5 vote this week, and to stake out a House GOP position.
“While we applaud the progress made by our Senate colleagues, there are numerous ways in which the House will approach the issue differently,” the Republican leaders said in their statement. “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. Rather, through regular order, the House will work its will and produce its own legislation.”
Mr. Boehner is playing a proxy game of political checkers with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, as a bipartisan group of lawmakers tries to craft a broad immigration deal that would include legal status for illegal immigrants and a rewrite of the legal immigration system.
Members of that “Gang of Eight” announced they had reached the outlines of a deal last week, then hit some snags, and said Thursday that they were back on track.
“A bipartisan bill in the House has the best chance of passing the House and the best chance of producing a good immigration reform proposal when conferenced with the Senate’s bipartisan bill,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat who is part of the group.
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But House leaders are hedging their bets.
In addition to encouraging the bipartisan group, Mr. Boehner also has green-lighted two committees to work on pieces of the puzzle. The Homeland Security Committee last week approved a border security bill, and the Judiciary Committee is preparing to move on legislation creating an agriculture guest-worker program and another bill to establish a nationwide electronic verification system for businesses to check their workers’ legal status.
Those are all pieces of the bipartisan bill that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the Senate bill goes much further. It rewrites the legal immigration system and, most controversially, extends quick legal status to illegal immigrants with the promise of an eventual pathway to citizenship.
Democrats say citizenship rights are a non-negotiable part of any deal, but Republicans are still struggling with that.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he will put the immigration bill on his chamber floor next month.
He signaled that he won’t pursue a fight over President Obama’s Labor Department secretary nominee because it could have upset the bipartisanship that has developed around the immigration bill.
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Key Senate Republicans have said they won’t try to filibuster to block the bill from coming to the Senate floor.
There is some speculation that if a bill emerges from the Senate, Democrats would call on the House to pass it as well.
The House Republican statement seemed designed to shut down that avenue.
“Enacting policy as consequential and complex as immigration reform demands that both chambers of Congress engage in a robust debate and amendment process,” the leaders said.
Mrs. Pelosi said Thursday that one issue holding up the bipartisan House negotiations on immigration is over how insistent Congress should be that the administration create a nationwide electronic verification system to check workers’ legal status.
“If E-Verify is not effectively accomplished in five years, then all of these people revert to the status they have now. I think that’s pretty drastic,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
But she shot down reports that she was insisting on broader health care coverage for illegal immigrants, saying she accepts the decision in the 2010 health care law that makes them ineligible.
“I’m saying that there is no obstacle to our support of a bill if it says no taxpayer funding. That would be a subsidy in the Affordable Care Act, and it would also be Medicaid,” she said.