The quick return of the bill surprised many, and this article offers some insight into the behind-the-scenes changes and negotiations that have been taking place over the last several days, with President Bush indeed pushing this initiative forward, as promised.
Maura Reynolds, writing for the Los Angeles Times:
The bill kicked up fierce objections among conservatives across the country who derided it as amnesty for illegal immigrants, emboldening Senate opponents who thwarted attempts to debate the bill.
Senate leaders agreed Thursday to a list of amendments to be considered, clearing the way for debate to resume. The decision followed President Bush's announcement that he supports a move to immediately set aside more than $4 billion to beef up enforcement of immigration laws.
The two actions significantly improve the chances that the Senate will pass the comprehensive bill, which would provide a path to citizenship for many of the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. "We believe that there are enough votes," White House spokesman Tony Snow said Thursday.
A senior Democratic aide said that Senate leaders agreed to specific amendments, with 11 for each side, but did not describe them.
One will certainly be the amendment drafted by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to guarantee that the federal government spends billions of dollars to improve border security and crack down on businesses that hire illegal workers. The measure is intended as an answer to conservatives who doubt the administration's commitment to enforcement.
The president made his announcement two days after he urged Senate Republicans at their weekly policy lunch to pass the bill, his first such visit to the Capitol in nearly six years. [...]
The president insisted his administration was already doing a better job of catching illegal border-crossers, but said he would support the Graham amendment as a way to ensure that there was adequate funding to improve even more. "We're going to show the American people that the promises in this bill will be kept," Bush said.
Under the proposal, the U.S. Treasury would immediately set aside $4.4 billion to step up border security and workplace enforcement. The funds would be repaid from the fines collected over two years from illegal immigrants who go through the legalization process.
"The moment the presidential signing pen meets the paper these funds will be available," Graham said in a statement.
"The funds will be ready to use in our efforts to construct miles of new fencing, miles of new vehicle barriers, utilize new cutting-edge technology at the border, build surveillance towers, institute an [employer verification system] to ensure workers are legal, and other enforcement measures."
The president's announcement appeared to sideline a move to put together a separate funding measure for the same purpose. Conservative opponents of the bill had asked for an emergency budget bill -- similar to those used to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to show the administration's resolve.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a key opponent of the legislation, described Bush's support as a "welcome development," noting that he had proposed a similar plan as part of a defense spending bill last year.
"I do think it's the right position, but it may be too late to revive this bill," Cornyn said in a conference call with reporters. "Whether this is enough to satisfy members of the Senate, we'll have to see."
Snow suggested that the president and other backers of the bill wanted the funding to be a part of the immigration package, not a separate measure.
"All the pieces have to work together," he said. "If you disaggregate, things fall apart."
Reid pulled the bill from the floor last week in a dispute with Republicans over how many amendments he would permit to be debated and voted on. Opponents had offered more than 300 amendments, a common tactic designed to indefinitely prolong debate on a bill.
Right wing bloggers were chattering yesterday, suggesting Reid pulled the bill because he "knew" it was headed in a direction that Democrats didn't like, but as the 300 amendments indicates, in fact the bill was stymied under the weight of a concerted effort to kill it by conservatives.
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