- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2006

The Senate yesterday overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to secure the country’s porous borders after years of warning voters of the dire need to do so.

All but two Democrats and 20 Republicans voted against considering the border security-only bill, the last of three immigration votes in recent days. It was the only proposal that did not contain a guest-worker provision, and which many said would grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens already in the country.

“I think politics got in front of policy on this issue,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who voted against the bill. Earlier, the Massachusetts Democrat voted in favor of two border-security proposals that contained guest-worker plans.

The border-security proposals rejected by the Senate this week would have added 15,000 new Border Patrol agents, authorized unmanned aerial vehicles and cameras to watch the border and built miles of strategically placed fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. They also would have created tough new penalties for human smugglers and expedited removal of terrorists and gang members from the United States.

The border security-only measure died yesterday on a 36-62 vote, 24 “ayes” short of the 60 required.

The vote ended several weeks of wrangling over a complicated legislative issue and capped several days of furious political maneuvering.

It immediately followed the collapse of a deal that Democrats and Republicans reached Thursday, which both sides agreed would have garnered between 60 and 70 votes in the Senate.

That deal came apart as Democrats refused to allow consideration of several Republican amendments, including one that would have barred U.S. citizenship for any illegal alien convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors or who had ignored a court order to leave the country.

“The blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Senate minority leader, Democrat Harry Reid,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, South Carolina Republican, who defied public opinion in his conservative state to support the deal. “We had a compromise that would have secured an overwhelming vote in the Senate. But Reid decided he would procedurally kill the bill.”

Initially, there were more than 300 amendments proposed to the measure. Republicans whittled that down to 20. But Mr. Reid refused to consider them because, he said, they were aimed at weakening the legislation.

Also, Mr. Reid, who for weeks criticized Republican leadership for moving too fast on immigration reform, began accusing Republicans of trying to delay the bill with votes on amendments.

“I think there’s always room for amendments,” Mr. Kennedy said yesterday when asked whether the Republican amendments were out of order.

Asked whether Mr. Reid, then, was to blame for the deal’s collapse, Mr. Kennedy didn’t answer directly: “There’s enough blame to really go around.”

Republicans and other observers said that Democrats — with prodding from Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York — ripped a page from the playbook of House Republicans in the early 1990s when they were in the minority. By scuttling immigration reform, Democrats denied Republicans an important victory in an election year.

“It’s not gone forward because there’s a political advantage for Democrats not to have an immigration bill,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican.

Mr. Specter said his committee will take up the remnants of the immigration proposals in his committee when the Senate returns from a two-week Easter recess. He vowed to have a new bill within 10 days.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who left for Eastern Europe and Russia shortly after yesterday’s votes, said he hopes to bring immigration legislation to the Senate floor again this year, but declined to discuss a timetable.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Mr. Reid, said Democrats are eager to address the issue again.

“We can deal with that instead of such things as the eliminating the estate tax, the gay-marriage ban or the flag-burning amendment,” he said.

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