- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Senate’s top Republican yesterday said the fate of the immigration bill is still in doubt as he and the Senate’s top Democrat revive it and force it back on the schedule this week.

“It’s hard to know if the votes will be there to pass it or not,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Last week, Mr. McConnell agreed to buck many of his party’s conservatives and force a limit to the number of amendments they want to offer to the immigration bill. In exchange, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, agreed to put the bill back on the schedule.

The bill had foundered a week earlier when members of both parties demanded more time to offer amendments.

Both sides are still negotiating which amendments will be allowed in this second go-around, but among the difficult votes expected will be attempts to require illegal aliens to show roots before they can be legalized; to alter the point when some illegal aliens have to return home before continuing the path to citizenship; and to alter penalties for businesses that hire illegal aliens.

One amendment that should easily pass would create a way to finance billions of dollars of border-security improvements Congress and the president already have promised but have never funded — an effort by the administration and Senate to prove to voters the laws will be enforced this time.

“When the bill returns to the Senate floor, I plan to add $4.4 billion in guaranteed funding — to be funded by the fees and penalties established by the bill’s new programs — to strengthen border security and speed other important elements of comprehensive reform,” Mr. Reid said Friday.

The bill is the result of a “grand bargain” struck by a small bipartisan group of senators and the Bush administration working behind closed doors — an approach that has led to procedural problems on the Senate floor.

Republicans in the bargain said they agreed to give citizenship rights to illegal aliens in exchange for creating a new guest-worker program and redrawing the rules under which future legal immigrants are selected, including instituting a point system for those with needed skills or education.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and one of those who put together the grand bargain, said other senators will recognize the bipartisan work that went into the bill.

“If we got it to a final vote, there would be a bipartisan majority because this is a comprehensive approach to a problem that’s been lingering for 20 years,” he said.

Meanwhile, the issue continues to affect the 2008 presidential field.

Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has tied his campaign to the surge in Iraq and to passage of an immigration bill, has seen his primary position deteriorate. A new Mason-Dixon poll over the weekend found him slipping into single digits in South Carolina.

Mr. Graham, a close ally of Mr. McCain’s, said the Arizonan has taken a hit in conservative South Carolina, but said he is taking the right stance on immigration if Republicans want to win elections.

“John is telling the Republican Party, in ‘08, if you want to win, you can’t win with 22 percent of the Hispanic vote,” he said.