WASHINGTON – Key senators trying to negotiate an agreement on immigration disagreed Sunday about how close they were to reaching a consensus.
Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., predicted during television appearances that a bipartisan plan could be announced as soon as next week, when the Senate returns from a two-week recess. They touted a compromise on work visas between union officials and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that was brokered late last week.
But Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., whose support is seen as crucial to attract the votes of conservative GOP senators to a comprehensive bill, said talk of an agreement was “premature.”
“We have made substantial progress, and I believe we will be able to agree on a legislative proposal,” he said in a terse statement Sunday. “However, that legislation will only be a starting point.”
Rubio strongly cautioned that the bill would require extensive public debate in committee hearings and on the Senate floor. “In order to succeed, this process cannot be rushed or done in secret,” he said.
Despite Rubio’s caution, other senators in the so-called Gang of Eight appeared optimistic that Congress was near a historic breakthrough on a measure that would make dramatic changes in the nation’s immigration system, including the new visa program and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.
The senators – four Democrats and four Republicans – have spent four months drafting a bill that is intended to appeal to lawmakers in both parties.
“With the agreement between business and labor, every major policy issue has been resolved,” Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I am very, very optimistic that we will have an agreement among the eight of us next week.”
Graham, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said: “I think we’ve got a deal. We’ve got to write the legislation, but 2013, I hope, will be the year that we pass bipartisan immigration reform.”
The senators were encouraged by the deal that the AFL-CIO and the chamber reached on a new visa program that would allow low-income laborers into the country. Negotiators had been hung up on how to set the wages for those immigrant workers, but they resolved the issue late Friday.
Schumer acknowledged Rubio’s caution, noting that the legislative language for the bill has not been drafted, but he was optimistic that the group has passed the biggest hurdles. “There’ll be little kerfuffles,” he said. “But I don’t think any of us expect there to be problems.”