Friday, April 7, 2006

Mr. Frist’s Wild Ride: The deal collapses

Not twenty four hours after announcing a landmark compromise on immigration reform, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) today had to face the fact that any measure to address immigration would most likely not occur until after the two week spring recess, if at all. In a vote of 60 to 38, with seven Democrats joining a unanimous contingent of Republicans in opposition, the Senate this morning voted against a motion for cloture on the Hagel-Martinez compromise bill that would have allowed the bill to move forward without having to consider a myriad of proposed amendments.

Democrats, who are worried that the bill would be weakened, tried to protect the bill from a proposed 400 different amendments by insisting that the bill be allowed to go to the full Senate for votes. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada stated that : "The amendments were being offered by people who didn't want the bill." For most Democrats, who were prepared to support the compromise, the primary concern was that key provisions in the pending Senate bill might be changed or eliminated.

(more below the fold)

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Another key concern for Democrats was the make-up of the joint Senate/House committee that will try to reconcile the two opposing bills that will eventually come out of their respective bodies. Democrats are pushing for the senators appointed to that committee be members of the Judiciary Committee, whom they feel are much more committed to comprehensive reform. Democrats are worried that without strong support for comprehensive reform, the bill that would emerge from the Senate-House committee would more closely resemble the House-passed bill. The House bill would authorize construction of a wall 700 mile long on the U.S.-Mexican border, criminalization of all immigration infractions to the level of a felony, toughen the penalties for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, and forbid people from helping those in this country illegally in any way.

``The biggest concern on the part of the Democrats is, how do we preserve this compromise all the way through the process?'' said Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. ``There is a lot of experience here with good bills going into conference committee and transforming.''

``I think we're a long way from getting any kind of compromise that can survive'' the House, said Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.

Frist said it was "absurd" and "laughable" that the Democrats would try to dictate which Republicans would serve on such a committee.

On the Republican side, concern appeared to fall into two categories: senators who favored a more restrictive approach to the path to legal status and citizenship, and senators who might support some compromise but wanted to test the waters back in their home states before voting.

So it looks as if the “Great Compromise” heralded yesterday as a major breakthrough is little more than a another dip on the immigration roller coaster that is quickly becoming Mr Frist’s wild ride.

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