WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservatives and the nation's biggest business lobby sparred Wednesday over immigration overhaul, with advocates vowing a renewed effort to get the House to act this year and opponents digging in against anything that shifts the political spotlight from President Barack Obama's troubled health care law.
The latest skirmish came as proponents raised expectations of congressional action on the contentious issue, seizing on any glimmer of positive developments. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told rank-and-file Republicans in a closed-door session that he would soon outline party principles on the issue, which could serve as a precursor to legislation.
One of the GOP's crucial backers on many policies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, promised to "pull out all the stops" to get legislation done.
"We're determined to make 2014 the year that immigration reform is finally enacted," Tom Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said in his State of American Business address. He said the organization would engage in grassroots lobbying, communications and partnership with unions, similar to what it did to secure a bipartisan bill in the Senate last year.
Later, in a news conference, Donohue said the chamber had received a "very positive response" in the House on immigration.
Opposition remains steadfast in the House, with several Republicans unwilling to give Obama one of his top second-term priorities.
More than a dozen conservative House Republicans on Wednesday signed a letter to Obama arguing that the immigration overhaul he supports would increase the number of guest workers and give work permits and permanent residency to 30 million immigrants over the next 10 years, forcing a reduction in wages and hurting American workers.
"So-called comprehensive immigration reform may be a good deal for big businesses who want to reduce labor costs, and it may be a good deal for progressive labor unions seeking new workers from abroad, but it's an awful deal for U.S. workers - including African-American and Hispanic communities enduring chronically high unemployment," the letter states. It was spearheaded by Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a chief foe of comprehensive immigration overhaul, said the issue would divide the GOP caucus and shift the focus from what he called the "calamity" of the health care law.