All this week, Republicans have tried to find a “killer amendment” that would fracture the coalition supporting the comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate. Ironically, it may have come from a Democrat, as the Senate surprisingly approved Byron Dorgan’s amendment to end the guest-worker program after five years:
A fragile compromise that would legalize millions of unlawful immigrants risks coming unraveled after the Senate voted early Thursday to place a five-year limit on a program meant to provide U.S. employers with 200,000 temporary foreign workers annually.
The 49-48 vote came two weeks after the Senate, also by a one-vote margin, rejected the same amendment by Sen. Byron Dorgan. The North Dakota Democrat says immigrants take many jobs Americans could fill.
The reversal dismayed backers of the immigration bill, which is supported by President Bush but loathed by many conservatives. Business interests and their congressional allies were already angry that the temporary worker program had been cut in half from its original 400,000-person-a-year target.
A five-year sunset, they said, could knock the legs from the precarious bipartisan coalition aligned with the White House. The Dorgan amendment “is a tremendous problem, but it’s correctable,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. The coalition will try as early as Thursday to persuade at least one senator to help reverse the outcome yet again, he said.
The amendment not only came from a Democrat, it passed with mostly Democratic votes. Eleven Republicans voted to support the amendment, only a portion of the bill’s GOP opponents:
Amusingly, these ten voted in support of the labor unions. Dorgan drafted the bill to protect the interests of the unions, who see the guest worker program as a threat to their members. After all, temporary workers will have little leverage for collective bargaining, especially since the workforce turns over every two years. That’s why Dorgan’s amendment has the support of Senators like Barbara Boxer, Carl Levin, and Chuck Schumer.
The compromise coalition will pressure at least some of these Senators to reverse themselves starting today. One of the first people who will feel it will be Chris Dodd. He missed the vote and the opportunity to stop the amendment with a tie vote. They may go after one of the rookies, like Jon Tester of Montana, where business interests in a guest-worker program may have more impact than on a Barbara Boxer.
The day had gone well for the coalition before this. They had turned back a number of amendments that would have stopped the momentum for the immigration reform bill, including one by Barack Obama to sunset the points-based immigration review system. A more troubling rejection was the vote against David Vitter’s amendment to add a trigger for the biometric border security system. That system should have been implemented by 2005, but it has been delayed. That amendment lost by a single vote, even though it seems odd that such a requirement would have ended the coalition. Yet, the Republicans in the coalition voted against it, including Jon Kyl, Lindsay Graham, john McCain, and Arlen Specter.
It looks as though it all may be moot. Unless the coalition can force another vote on the Dorgan amendment, the bill is toast.