Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The House is expected to pass a bill today that would require voters to present photo identification to participate in national elections — the latest in a slew of border-security measures House Republicans are pushing before the November elections.

Democrats oppose the legislation, which presents another sticking point for the Senate on immigration reform.

The Senate has refused to pass border-security legislation unless it is coupled with provisions to implement a guest-worker program and to grant citizenship rights to some of the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the United States.

“Every day, millions of Americans show a picture ID to pay by check, board a plane, or buy alcohol or tobacco,” said Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, the Michigan Republican whose committee approved the legislation last week. “Surely the sanctity of the ballot warrants as much protection as these other activities.”

The House Administration Committee approved the bill on a straight party-line vote. The full House is expected to pass the legislation today in a similar manner.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, announced that he will put on the floor this week a House-passed bill to construct 700 miles of new fencing along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

Senate Democrats dismissed the fence measure yesterday as “purely political” and invoked the name of former Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat. In 2002, Republicans succeeded in defeating Mr. Cleland, a decorated war hero, as weak on national defense for opposing the creation of the Homeland Security Department.

“They’re looking for a Max Cleland issue,” Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said yesterday. “Their Max Cleland moment.”

Mr. Durbin said the fence is not a “make-or-break issue” for Democrats opposed to a border-security-only approach to immigration reform.

Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, told reporters yesterday that border security “should be tied to some other things.”

“We need to have a guest-worker program,” Mr. Reid said. “We need to do something to have a pathway to citizenship to the 12 million people who are living in the shadows.”

The Senate voted 83-16 in May to include 370 miles of new fencing along the border, but only as part of a “comprehensive” bill that included provisions favored by Democrats such as a path to citizenship for illegal aliens and a guest-worker program favored by President Bush and many Republicans.

Only Democrats, including Mr. Durbin, and the chamber’s lone independent opposed the fence. Mr. Durbin called the fence “a symbol for the right wing in American politics.”

The fence also came to symbolize for opponents the border-security bill the House passed last year. Mr. Reid’s assessment of that bill was scathing.

“Tonight, the House passed a mean-spirited, extreme, anti-immigrant bill that is unworkable and un-American,” he said in a prepared statement at the time. “This radical bill has very little to do with securing our borders and instead demonizes and punishes our nation’s hardworking immigrant community. It will not fix our nation’s broken immigration system.”

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