Immigration debate bogs down over how to vote on amendments

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The immigration debate is getting off to a bad start with Republicans and Democrats already sparring over how to even vote on amendments — with Democrats insisting every vote achieve a 60-vote filibuster-style threshold in order to pass.

“This is a very provocative act,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, countered that immigration is such a big issue that any changes to the bill, including two border security amendments he wanted to schedule votes on, should have to pass the supermajority threshold.

“How many times have we heard the Republican leader say on this floor, and publicly, that the new reality in the United States Senate is 60?” Mr. Reid said, pointing to the GOP’s repeated filibusters of President Obama’s agenda.

Senators voted Tuesday to begin the immigration debate, and dozens of amendments have already been filed, including several key fights over border security and building a more elaborate border fence.

One of the amendments Mr. Reid wanted to subject to a filibuster threshold would have required 350 miles of two-tier fencing be built before illegal immigrants get legal status, and another 350 miles be built before they can later earn citizenship.

Another amendment would have delayed the initial legalization until after the border is secure.

But as in previous immigration debates, this year’s affair is already getting bogged down in questions over exactly which amendments Democrats will allow to come to the floor to be voted on.

Several of the border security amendments could potentially get majority support, but would not likely be able to hit the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster, which is why Mr. Reid wants to require the higher level of support.

In recent years, both sides have agreed that those kinds of controversial issues would be subject to the filibuster threshold, even though an actual filibuster is not ever required.

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