Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart on Thursday blamed Democratic leaders for twice blowing up a bipartisan deal on comprehensive immigration reform worked out by House negotiators.
The Florida Republican, a member of the bipartisan House immigration working-group, said negotiators found "a way forward" yet again, but that the latest deal prompted the departure from the group by conservative Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.
Diaz-Balart suggested that Democrats abandoned the deal at the 11th hour because of opposition to a health care provision from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"On the health issue, remember we had an agreement that our Democratic friends had to reopen. ... Then as you all know, there was an agreement reached again," Diaz-Balart told reporters on Thursday. "So, we had an agreement in principle and all of a sudden it looks like, unfortunately, folks -- particularly the Democratic leadership -- said, again a second time, the language that you've agreed to, you can't agree to.
"I can understand why somebody would say: 'Do you, does this group, at least half the group, have the ability to make any decisions anymore?'" Diaz-Balart added. "Or, has it been taken away by leadership, by Democratic leadership?"
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., another member of the working group, confirmed that the negotiators resolved their disagreement over whether newly legalized undocumented immigrants should be eligible for health care under President Obama's new reforms or other federal benefits by shelving it. A source familiar with the talks said the negotiators assume that other members would amend the bill to attach such a prohibition as it proceeds through the regular order process in the House.
Gutierrez did not dispute the House Democratic leadership's involvement in the late stage of the immigration negotiations. But he said the point was "moot" now that the group resolved the issue.
"We took it off, it is set aside," Gutierrez said. "The division got resolved by saying, here's the immigration language on health care ... there is no health care language on immigration ... there is none; zero."
The House working group's bill does not expressly allow newly legalized undocumented immigrants to access publicly funded health care benefits, which could help reduce costs to taxpayers.
But by not specifically prohibiting access to federal benefits, supporters of the legislation could be accused of supporting such a policy. Republicans speculate that this political factor probably motivated Labrador to leave the group. Diaz-Balart said he could not fault Labrador for pulling out given how frustrating the talks have become.
Labrador's vote for immigration reform is viewed as crucial given his close alignment with the Tea Party, which is why his exit from the talks is viewed as a potential blow to their ability to garner strong GOP support.
"The issue where he walked away, was on one issue, on health care," said Diaz-Balart, who expects the remaining seven members of the group to produce a bill in about two weeks.