Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are increasingly doubtful that Congress will pass any sort of immigration reform legislation this year.

“My gut [feeling] is that it’s undoable,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said yesterday about a compromise this year between the House and Senate bills. “The bills are too different. The sides are really polarized.”

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and leading critic of the approach favored by Mrs. Feinstein, yesterday gave immigration legislation a 20 percent chance of passage this year.

A poll of lawmakers published in this week’s National Journal found that 44 percent of those anonymously surveyed said they doubt any compromise can be reached this year.

The most optimistic predictions found in an informal survey conducted yesterday by The Washington Times suggested a perfect tossup.

“Fifty-fifty,” answered Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who has been a key supporter of the Senate bill that many say grants “amnesty” to about 10 million illegal aliens.

“We’re right on the bubble,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican and harsh critic of the Senate bill. “I think it could go either way.”

Whom to blame and who will pay the price in November’s elections are more debatable.

“It’s increasingly clear that opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are prepared to use every tool possible to defeat any effort to pass immigration reform,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The two bills await conference committee, where House and Senate negotiators will hammer out the differences. Those negotiations already have stalled because of a technical, though constitutional, issue with the Senate version of the legislation.

Republicans blame Mr. Reid for refusing to agree to a simple fix that would allow negotiations to begin. Mr. Manley said Mr. Reid wants more assurances that House negotiators won’t rip apart the Senate bill.

Republicans say Mr. Reid and other Democrats are trying to quietly scuttle any bill from emerging in order to deny the Republican-led Congress a significant legislative victory before the fall elections.

“Failure is the worst thing we can do,” Mr. Graham said. He was countering the mantra of House Republicans, who say a bill that grants a path to citizenship for illegals is worse than no bill at all.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, called the Senate bill a “non-starter” in the House because of Republican opposition. He said the Republicans’ victory in California last week by Brian P. Bilbray, who campaigned for a congressional seat on a tough immigration stance, assured that House Republicans will not back down from their tough border security bill.

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