The Senate’s immigration and border security legislation, S. 2611, passed the Senate today by a 62-36 vote, with 38 Democrats, 23 Republicans and independent Jim Jeffords voting for the final bill. The full record of amendments and votes over the past two weeks can be found here.
Now the fun part begins – the House-Senate conference on this legislation. Stories in the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor preview the conference. From the latter story:
As hard as it was in the Senate to pull together a winning coalition on immigration reform, getting to “yes” with the House – in a form that can again pass both bodies – will be even tougher.
But it’s not impossible. Even before the Senate completed work on its immigration bill Thursday, House Republicans were signaling an openness to compromise, as long as the final legislation maintains a focus on border security.
“I believe it is resolvable, and we will be successful in putting an illegal immigration bill on the president’s desk,” said House majority leader John Boehner, before the Senate vote Thursday. But he cautioned: “This is going to be a delicate negotiation between the House and Senate.”
….Moreover, House leaders say that unless a compromise plan has the support of most House Republicans, it will not be allowed to come to a vote – even if the members of the conference committee agree on a compromise.
“The Speaker will not bring a conference report on immigration to the floor unless it has the support of a majority of the majority,” says Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert.
I’m relatively optimistic that the conferees can find a middle ground that increases funding for a border fence and makes the pathway to citizenship a bit more arduous (but not impossible) as part of a guest worker program, given comments by key House members like Jim Sensenbrenner and Peter King indicating that they think a deal can be struck.
But this latter issue about needing a “majority of the majority” among House Republicans to bring the final bill to the floor could be a real fly in the ointment, because I don’t think that the Senate’s supporters of this legislation would be willing to accept legislation that goes to such extremes. And by the time that we get to September, the Democratic leadership in Congress could make the calculation that they’re going to win control of the House or Senate in November, and decide to wait this one out, and take up new legislation in the 110th. If Pres. Bush puts pressure on Hastert to change his mind on this issue for the long-term good (but probable short-term disadvantage) of the Republican Party, then perhaps this impediment can be overcome. But Bush probably lacks the political capital to make that pitch to the leadership of the House today, and members of Congress don’t exactly relish the prospect of serving as sacrificial pawns in a larger strategic game.
Update (5/26): The rundown on the bill from the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.