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GOP Scrambles Over Immigrant Bill

August 4, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans in Congress and technology executives are scrambling this week to salvage from a threatened presidential veto a bill to let 190,000 more high-skilled foreigners into the United States.

But the GOP also is using the visa dispute to paint themselves as far friendlier to Silicon Valley than the Clinton administration and its foremost ambassador to the high-tech community, Vice President Al Gore.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey pulled the bill from consideration last Friday when the White House warned of a possible veto after House Republicans quit wrangling among themselves over the issue.

The veto threat was ``a slap in the face to America’s high-tech industry,″ Andrew Weinstein, a spokesman for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said Tuesday. ``When push came to shove, the vice president chose his Luddite labor allies over the competitive interests of American high-tech companies.″

Gingrich met Monday evening with executives from Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems and other organizations, urging them to intensify their lobbying on behalf of the bill.

The high-tech industry has been clamoring for an increase in the H-1B visa program, which is capped at 65,000 visas annually. The limit was hit in May, four months before the start of the new fiscal year. High-tech companies can’t bring in any more foreign computer programmers until then.

``This is the highest priority item for our industry,″ said John Boidock, vice president of government relations for Texas Instruments. ``Not reaching a conclusion in the very near future would be disastrous.″

The Senate passed a bill in May to temporarily boost the visa program. But the drive ran aground in the House amid concerns over no provisions in the bill to prevent companies from firing American workers so they could hire foreign ones at lower wages.

Mindful of White House concerns, GOP leaders crafted a compromise adding to the measure some worker protections and funds for training programs. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott tried to bring the compromise up Thursday but was blocked by Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

The Senate now is gone for August, but the House could still take up the compromise before it leaves town at week’s end, Gingrich told the executives.

Industry officials are chafing at what they view as the administration’s eleventh-hour opposition to the compromise. White House officials said they were presented the text of the bill less than a day before its scheduled House consideration.

Administration officials have proposed 15 changes and are still negotiating with the chairman of the Senate Judiciary immigration subcommittee, Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich.

``We’re willing to work in good faith to reach a compromise to raise the cap while providing some protections for U.S. workers and training,″ said White House spokesman Jake Siewert. ``If people want to play politics with this, then they are lessening the chances of reaching a compromise.″

Said Abraham spokesman Joe McMonigle: ``We’re still hopeful that we can get them on board.″

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