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April 29, 2006
Reid Blinks

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid backed away from his demand that the immigration-reform bill currently before the Senate receive a direct vote with no amendments from Republicans, a condition that scuttled the compromise agreement before the Easter break. Reid told reporters yesterday that he would allow a certain number of amendments as long as they did not unduly burden the bill:

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday he is willing to allow consideration of Republican amendments to the comprehensive immigration bill, a concession that removes a primary obstacle that killed the bill earlier this month.

"We're willing to work through these amendments," the Nevada Democrat told reporters yesterday. "If they want to have these votes, we'll have the votes."

Republicans said they welcomed Mr. Reid's change of heart, while Democrats cautioned that other obstacles remain.

"What part of 'yes' doesn't he understand," said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who has offered several amendments that Democrats refused to allow to be considered. "That is exactly the position that I and others interested in immigration reform took three weeks ago. We could have had a bill voted out of the Senate three weeks ago today if he hadn't been the one who obstructed votes on amendments on the floor."

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said later that while his boss is flexible about amendments, he remains opposed to allowing the legislation to be bogged down by too many. Mr. Reid and Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee say they are still negotiating over precisely how many amendments will be considered.

The Democrats had previously thought that stalling on immigration hurt the Republicans more than themselves and that they had enough crossover support from John McCain and others that the GOP would be forced to accept their direction. However, after Reid suddenly imposed the no-amendments condition and McCain publicly upbraided him for it, Reid and his caucus found themselves painted as the deal-killers. Senate Democrats received most of the criticism for the failure to pass the Senate legislation before the recess, and now Reid has to deliver some cooperation in order to get himself off the hook.

Reid and Frist will negotiate the number of amendments and their scope in the coming days, probably in time for Monday's session. The one amendment offered by Cornyn as mentioned above will almost certainly receive a vote now, although the Democrats claims it "guts" the reform bill they crafted. It's difficult to see why denying citizenship to people who have been convicted of felonies or three misdemeanors while living here illegally offends Democrats to such an extent. Even legal immigrants who reside here face deportation if they get convicted of such crimes. Why should illegal aliens get preferential treatment?

The Democrats say that they will easily defeat such amendments, and that they do not represent the spirit of the legislation. If that were true, then Reid would have allowed the amendments to come to a vote three weeks ago, as Cornyn also noted. The truth is that amendments such as Cornyn's and another which mandates a physical barrier system at the southern border will likely pass with bipartisan support. These will make the Senate bill that much closer to the House legislation that awaits a conference committee, and it will strengthen the Republican position in that negotiation. That is the real cause for Reid's obstructionism, and his capitulation makes it much more likely that a truly meaningful reform package will emerge for Bush's signature.

As I have written many times before on this blog, border security is the primary goal of immigration reform; regardless of what we do with the people already here, we have to stop the flood of people crossing the southern border. After that, the question of earned citizenship becomes much less problematic, and the proposals offered have some rational benefits for assimilation and identification of the truly undesirable. However, any proposal that treats this group better than legal immigrants, such as noted by Cornyn's amendment, will be found unacceptable by fair Americans. This is one example where the amendment process serves a good purpose.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 29, 2006 7:45 AM

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