- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2007

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The immigration deal foundered yesterday, on the verge of collapse under its own weight just days after it appeared to have a clear path to pass the Senate.

By late in the afternoon, Republicans were accusing Democrats of trying to “stuff” them, and Democrats said Republicans were trying to kill the bill by obstructing the process. Both sides were saying they don’t know whether the process can be put back on track.

A showdown is scheduled for tomorrow, when Democrats said they will force a vote to set a time limit on the bill, and Republicans have promised to block that move through a filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that if Republicans block his effort to limit debate, it would bump the bill off the schedule and likely derail it for the rest of the year.

“People are looking for excuses on the Republican side to kill this bill,” he said.

The Nevada Democrat said Republicans are trying to bog down the bill by piling up dozens of amendments — most of them from senators who “have no intention of voting for this bill, no matter what we do with it.”

But Republicans said Democrats are blitzing them by blocking Republicans from even offering amendments.

“The best way to process this bill is not for the majority to try to ‘stuff,’ if you will, the minority, because that will not happen, I assure you,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who contended that Democrats were trying to block Republican amendments because they were afraid of having to take tough votes.

“He would like to move this bill and have his members exposed to the fewest number of votes,” Mr. McConnell chided Mr. Reid on the Senate floor.

Senators said the bill is suffering from the way it was written — behind closed doors by a small bipartisan group of senators and the Bush administration.

Things got so bogged down that for an hour, senators bickered on the floor about who should have the right to offer the next amendment or demand a vote on amendments offered two weeks ago.

“I’ve been waiting 13 days for a vote on my amendment,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who threatened to block any action until Democrats agreed to set up a vote. His amendment would prevent illegal aliens who have been ordered deported from gaining amnesty.

The blowup is eerily similar to last year’s immigration bill. During the first go-round, even though Republicans were in control, Mr. Reid blocked votes on all but a few Republican amendments.

But after being blamed by President Bush, editorial boards and even many of his own supporters for short-circuiting the bill, Mr. Reid relented, and the Senate returned to the bill a second time and passed it, though it never received a vote in the House.

This year, Mr. Reid says he has given ground — including adding a second week of debate when Republicans said one week was not enough.

Yesterday, he said the Senate must move on to other important business after this week. He has already promised to hold a vote of no confidence on Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales as soon as immigration is completed.

But progress on the immigration bill has been very slow, with fewer than a dozen votes to show for seven days of work, just three days left in the scheduled workweek and the prospect of business being interrupted for the funeral for Sen. Craig Thomas, the Wyoming Republican who died late Monday night.

Last year, 42 amendments received votes, including 32 roll-call votes. Of the 42 amendments, 23 were Republican amendments and 19 were sponsored by Democrats.

There is a potential solution — both sides could agree to a list of amendments that would be guaranteed votes before final passage — but as of yesterday evening, neither side was ready to accept that solution.

Among the votes Republicans are insisting on are: an amendment by Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to make some illegal aliens return home before they obtain their new work visa, rather than eight years later when they apply for a green card; Mr. Cornyn’s amendment to make sure authorities can deport those who apply for, but are rejected for, legalization; an amendment by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to prohibit legalized aliens from receiving money from the Earned Income Tax Credit; Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe’s amendment to make English the official language; and two other amendments from Mrs. Hutchison to set rules for who may receive Social Security credits.

“I don’t want to be squeezed out,” Mrs. Hutchison said, in protesting Democrats’ effort to limit the debate.

Meanwhile, Democrats want to force votes to restore family-immigration rights back to their current level.

The Senate did hold four votes yesterday, including passing two Democrat-sponsored amendments and defeating two Republican-sponsored amendments.

One of those defeated amendments would have required voters to show identification before voting. It was defeated 52-41. And senators voted 62-31 to preserve special rights for illegal aliens to get ahead in the citizenship line, defeating a Republican amendment that would have put them on an even footing with future immigrants for getting green cards.

“Support this amendment to level the playing field under the merit-based system,” said Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican and the amendment’s sponsor.

But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said the low-skilled illegal alien workers who are being legalized under the bill wouldn’t make the cut if they had to meet the same standards.

“These workers will never, ever be able to compete in a meaningful way,” he said.

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