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Obama pushes case for immigration as House eyes next steps

U.S. President Barack Obama talks to business leaders to discuss the need for commonsense immigration reform in the Roosevelt Room of the Wh
U.S. President Barack Obama talks to business leaders to discuss the need for commonsense immigration reform in the Roosevelt Room of the Wh

By Roberta Rampton and Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House is trying to turn up the pressure on Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass sweeping immigration reform in coming weeks, making the argument that modernizing the outdated system would boost the economy and cut the deficit.

President Barack Obama's top advisers released a 32-page report on Wednesday pulling together well-known economic arguments - highlighted by quotes from some Republican stalwarts - that passing reforms will grow the economy by 3.3 percent by 2023 and reduce the deficit by almost $850 billion over 20 years.

The release of the White House report is part of a shift in strategy by Obama on immigration reform in which he plans to play a more visible role in the debate.

Over the past several months, as the Senate considered legislation that would mark the most far-reaching overhaul of the immigration system in nearly three decades, Obama chose to take a behind-the-scenes role on the view that it would help Senate negotiators get bipartisan support for the bill.

Now that the legislation has passed the Senate and the debate has moved to the House of Representatives, the White House believes the White House bully pulpit might be helpful to put pressure on Republican leaders in the House.

In the report, the White House quoted Grover Norquist on the issue, a conservative activist best known for convincing Republicans to pledge to never raise taxes, who is often cited by Democrats as a symbol of Republican obstructionism on fiscal issues.

"Immigration reform will jumpstart America's economy and reduce our national debt," Norquist said in a statement cited in the White House report.

The report also quoted Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was chief economist for President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, and conservative media baron Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News.

The Democratic-led Senate passed its version of the bill at the end of June, which included a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

"The president urges the House of Representatives to take action and move this bill or similar legislation forward," White House economic and policy advisers said in their report.

But House Speaker John Boehner has said the House will do its own work on the issue. Boehner has said he will not advance an immigration bill unless it has the support of a majority of the House's 234 Republicans, ruling out chances of a Senate bill passed largely by Democrats with some Republican support.

Many saw that as dooming comprehensive immigration reform since many rank-and-file Republican lawmakers oppose a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which is at the heart of the Senate bill.

But many Democrats believe Boehner and other Republican leaders may feel increasing pressure to act on immigration reform to preserve their party's political viability.

In the 2012 presidential election, Hispanic voters overwhelmingly rejected Republican candidate Mitt Romney, helping to deliver a re-election win to Obama.

White House officials have been talking to business groups about the economic benefits of reforms, hoping to enlist their help in convincing House Republicans to pass a bill.

Last week, Obama's Chief of Staff Denis McDonough met with top business groups like the American Bankers Association, National Retail Federation and Financial Services Forum at the White House to talk about the business-focused strategy.

"He discussed the positive impacts to our economy and urged them to keep up the pressure in order to get this done," a White House official said.

Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, will hold a private call with invited members of the business community on Thursday, along with Obama advisers Valerie Jarrett and Cecilia Munoz.

Later on Wednesday, Obama will meet with lawmakers from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to talk about immigration reform.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Caren Bohan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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