Graham says immigration bill delayed by union vs. business fight

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The Senate’s draft immigration bill has been delayed by new disagreement between business and labor groups, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, the bill’s primary GOP author and advocate.

“We’ve got an agreement between labor and business about the guest worker program, but we’re revisiting that [and] we’re hoping to get this thing done in the next couple of weeks,” Graham said in an interview with NBC’s David Gregory April 6.

That’s a sharply different message from that pushed by the bill’s leading Democratic author and advocate, Sen. Chuck Schumer.

“I think we’re doing very well,” he said on “Face The Nation,” CBS’ Sunday talk show.

“I think that we hope that we can have a bipartisan agreement … hopefully, we can get that done by the end of the week,” Schumer said.

But even that optimistic message was a walk-back by Schumer, who has repeatedly said the closed-door negotiations are going well, and that he expected a bill to be revealed early this week.

Under the pending bill, GOP politicians would accept a multi-stage amnesty for at least 11 million illegal immigrants. Some conservative critics of large-scale immigration say this measure would provide Democratic candidates with a large pool of new Democratic-leaning Latino voters in roughly 13 years.

In exchange, GOP politicians expect Democratic politicians to open the door to an increased inflow of low-wage workers with foreign visas. The pending bill would raise the annual number of seasonal and permanent visa-workers from today’s level of 690,000 to a million or more. (RELATED: New bill would import 1 million workers a year)

“If we’re reasonable with 11 million, if we all give them a pathway to citizenship … then the Democratic Party has to give us the guest worker program to help our economy,” Graham said.

“That’s what we’re arguing over,” he said.

The trade-off is politically controversial, because at least 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, and because the cost to taxpayers may reach trillions of dollars.

Graham has been a strong advocate for a guest worker program. In 2012, for example, he voted to block new federal rules that would have forced employers to pay extra for the use of imported H-2B workers at Kiawah Island resort and other sites. (RELATED: Graham helped Jamaican workers work at elite country club)

However, the current H-2B rules have been upended by a March 21 decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The court directed the Department of Labor to drop wage rules established under President George W. Bush, forcing a delay in approving visas for some of the roughly 66,000 H-2B workers requested by employers for 2013.

The decision is important for the employers because it might delay the arrival of workers or force a wage increase.

The court’s decision may also have derailed the March deal between the AFL-CIO unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is a pillar of the pending Senate immigration bill

The draft union and chamber deal allowed companies to annually import up to 200,000 permanent foreign workers under a new “W visa” category.

The unions, under pressure from progressives, agreed to the new low-wage workers in exchange for some worker protections. Progressives support the deal because it also includes a provision that allows the W-visa workers to become citizens and vote.

Graham’s announcement of a multi-week delay was obscured by continuing media coverage over GOP Sen. Marco Rubio’s conditional support for the Senate deal.

Weekend coverage by The Hill website focused on Rubio, and buried Graham’s statement about the new delay in the 13th paragraph.

Politico, a news site based in Virginia, included Graham’s comments at the end of a four-paragraph item about Schumer’s optimistic forecast.

Some immigration advocates are worried that Rubio will not push GOP Senators to support the amnesty and guest-worker bill.

Rubio’s aides say he‘ll support a bill that bolsters border security and helps the economy.

Rubio “is committed to immigration reform. But it has to be consistent with his principles and done the right way,” said a 1.29 p.m. tweet from Rubio’s chief of staff, Cesar Conda.

Rubio is important because he can help win some GOP support for the amnesty and guest-worker bill.

But he can also rally GOP and some Democratic votes against the bill.

The bill’s authors insist that Rubio is on their side.

“Oh, he’s been very helpful and important in this whole effort that we’ve been making,” said Sen. John McCain, another author of the still-secret bill. Rubio “has reached out to conservative sides, including talk show hosts and others, and Marco has been very important,” said McCain, before switching the topic back to himself.

“Marco Rubio has been a game changer in my party,” claimed Graham.

But, Graham added, “he will be there only if the Democrats will embrace a guest worker program and a merit-based immigration system.”

“If we get the 11 million right on our side it puts pressure on the Democrats to come up with a workable … a practical guest worker program,” Graham insisted, before giving his side good odds of winning.

“70-30, we get there.”

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