Senate Democrats are threatening to bog down the emergency war-spending bill with a broad debate on immigration if Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist doesn’t win a guarantee from House Republicans to drop driver’s license limits from their chamber’s version.
Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said yesterday that he wants to ensure the eventual House-Senate conference will not include the House-passed Real ID Act, which cracks down on illegal immigrants’ ability to use driver’s licenses and restricts asylum claims.
“The problem that is here is that when they go to conference, they just put Real ID in it,” he said. “Unless we have some way of having assurance that that won’t happen, which I do not think Senator Frist can get, as much as he’d probably like to, I don’t know how I can stop people from offering amendments on immigration”
The list of amendments ranges from increasing the cap on seasonal temporary workers to a full guest-worker and amnesty program for millions of illegal aliens.
Both Mr. Reid and Mr. Frist have said they would prefer that the $80 billion spending bill stick mainly to funds for Iraq and Afghanistan and aid to victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
“I think rather than piecemeal on the supplemental, it would be in the best interest of the country and, I think, of this body to take all of the various interests, all of the various immigration concerns and address them at one time in a comprehensive way,” said Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican.
In addition to Mr. Reid, Mr. Frist is trying to accommodate members of his own party.
Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, wants to offer an amendment to legalize the 600,000 to 1 million illegal alien agriculture workers and their family members. Mr. Craig said he won’t force the issue during the spending bill debate if Mr. Frist guarantees a debate on his bill within the next month.
Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, has said she will offer an amendment to increase the number of seasonal temporary workers.
And Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, has been working with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, on a broader immigration bill that would apply to most of the 10 million or more illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Mr. McCain said yesterday that if the immigration debate does begin, “We’re ready.”
Two Republican Judiciary subcommittee chairmen — Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas — announced yesterday that they are working on their own broad temporary-worker bill and say senators should be patient and allow all these measures — from Mr. Craig’s bill to the House provisions — to be considered first by Mr. Cornyn’s immigration subcommittee, which is part of the Judiciary Committee.
“We should not short-circuit that discussion by enacting legislation outside of the regular order of business in the House and the Senate,” Mr. Cornyn said.