WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- President Obama said he would accept a piecemeal approach to overhauling the U.S. immigration system, provided the divided Congress passes all the pieces.
Obama said in an interview at a Wall Street Journal business leaders forum he preferred the sweeping immigration bill that passed the Senate in June, but said he would support the House piecemeal approach because Republican leaders in that chamber have made clear they won't consider the Senate measure.
"If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don't care what it looks like, as long as it's actually delivering on those core values that we talk about," Obama said.
"What we don't want to do is simply carve out one piece of it -- let's say agricultural jobs, which are important, but is easier, frankly, or the high-skilled jobs that many in your audience here would immediately want to do -- but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done," Obama said.
Obama was told in the interview the executives at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council considered immigration reform their No. 1 priority, believing it would provide "an instant jolt to the U.S. economy."
Obama said he was "optimistic" Congress would pass immigration reform next month, meeting a goal he set to have a reform bill passed by the end of the year.
But House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told the forum shortly after Obama spoke the bill wouldn't get done this year because there wasn't enough time.
"No offense to the administration, we just don't trust their word on this," Ryan said. There is "literally not enough time" to pass immigration reform by Dec. 31, he said.
"If we are trying to cram and rush just because it's the calendar year, we don't think that's responsible," he said.
Ryan also said he believed some GOP House members supported a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who entered the United States without legal permission.
But he said the House would want to purposely make the process toward citizenship burdensome and drawn out -- perhaps taking 15 years -- to encourage future immigrants to enter the country legally.
The Senate bill, which House leaders reject, would provide a 13-year path to citizenship.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said last week his chamber wouldn't consider hashing out differences between House immigration plans and the bipartisan Senate immigration bill.
House conservatives worry any piecemeal House measures would lose out to the comprehensive Senate bill if the two chambers met in a House-Senate conference committee to resolve bill disagreements, The Washington Post reported.