With the immigration bill's passage in the Senate now a forgone conclusion, the only question is whether the lawmakers will get the chance to vote on any other amendments before signing off and sending the measure to an uncertain future in the House.
As it is, this year's debate is shaping up as the emptiest immigration debate in the past decade, with just 13 amendments having been considered and voted on so far.
Indeed, while the Senate has now spent 10 days working on the bill, it has held just 10 roll-call votes on amendments — or an average of one a day. It also has approved three amendments by voice vote.
By contrast, during the 2006 debate the chamber held 33 roll-call votes and approved 10 other amendments by voice vote, and in the 2007 debate the breakdown was 28 roll-call votes and three voice votes.
Republican leaders said they were resigned to the bill passing, even if it meant no other amendments.
"It won't surprise you to know that in the minority, we'd rather have more amendments rather than fewer, and we're still hoping to get additional amendments," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. "Whether we do or don't, it looks to me like the bill is headed toward completion later this week."
It takes unanimous consent to get an amendment pending in the Senate, which means a single member can block someone else from offering a proposal. Each side has blamed the other for the blockade.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he would like to get more amendments, but without GOP cooperation he said it can't happen.
"We're working on this, we can still do it. We have to keep our eye on the prize and make sure everyone's going to give a little," Mr. Reid said late Tuesday afternoon. "A majority in both caucuses want amendments. Having said that, simple majorities won't do it."
In those previous debates, the Senate voted on amendments to change the number of guest workers, voted on making English the national language of the U.S., and fiercely debated the kinds of interior enforcement that would be allowed.
This year, none of those issues has reached the floor, and the dozen or so amendments that have been debated were chiefly about border security. A few noncontroversial amendments have passed, including limiting contractors' pay or tweaking the immigration system for adoptees.
That has left this year's debate more shallow than either the 2006 or 2007 bills.
Part of the difference is that senators loaded up one amendment with dozens of changes. That amendment, which would build about 350 miles of additional pedestrian fence and boost the number of Border Patrol agents in the southwest by 20,000, or more than double today's total, is considered the key to the bill.
It cleared a test vote Monday, 67-27, signaling that the overall bill is headed for passage.
This year's legislation is the result of a deal worked out by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight." It offers illegal immigrants quick legal status, but withholds citizenship for more than a decade with the understanding that the administration would use that time to improve border security and interior enforcement.
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