(Alex Wong / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — Key senators trying to negotiate an agreement on immigration reform were divided Sunday on how close they are to reaching a consensus on the legislation.
Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), touting a compromise on work visas brokered Friday by union officials and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, predicted that a bipartisan plan could be announced as soon as next week, when the Senate returns from a two-week recess.
But Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose support is seen as critical to attract the votes of conservative GOP senators to a comprehensive effort, said that talk of an agreement was “premature.”
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“We have made substantial progress and I believe we will be able to agree on a legislative proposal," he said in a terse statement released Sunday. “However, that legislation will only be a starting point."
Rubio strongly cautioned that the bill would still 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 that is working on immigration appeared optimistic that Congress is near a historic breakthrough on reform.
“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" show, 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 the caution expressed by Rubio, 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. But I don't think any of us expect there to be problems,” he said.
The eight senators, as well as a group in the House, are drafting the bill to solve one of the nation’s most perplexing issues. President Obama also hopes to settle the issue. He has largely left the legislation-writing to Capitol Hill, while continuing to call for a solution at public events.
David Axelrod, who has worked as a top political advisor to the president, said on NBC that Obama was equally hopeful because he views immigration reform as a “legacy item” for his presidency.
“He wants this accomplishment,” Axelrod said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”