June 11 (Bloomberg) -- Immigration legislation scheduled for a Senate test today has “serious flaws,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said while pledging to vote to begin debate on the measure.
The Senate plans two votes this afternoon on formally taking up the bipartisan bill that would create a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented U.S. immigrants and increase security at the border with Mexico.
“I’ll vote to debate it, and for the opportunity to amend it,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. The measure’s border-security provisions must be strengthened, he said, a position also taken by House Speaker John Boehner in an interview broadcast today on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Still, Boehner said, there is “no question” that “by the end of the year, we could have a bill” passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Barack Obama.
Democrats are pressing for passage of sweeping immigration legislation that Obama has made a top priority after Hispanic voters gave him 71 percent support in the November election. Many Republicans, particularly in the House, oppose the measure’s citizenship path and are demanding stiffer border-security measures.
“If you’re actually serious and sincere about fixing a broken system, this is the vehicle to do it, and now’s the time to get it done,” the president said at the White House today. Obama urged supporters to “call and Tweet your senators and tell them, ‘Don’t kick this problem down the road.’”
Senate Democratic leaders want to pass the measure, S. 744, by July 4 and send it to the House. Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said today that if lawmakers have proposals to improve the border-security provisions, “let’s take a look at it.”
Boehner and other Republican House leaders have decided to move more quickly and focus on immigration before the August recess, three Republican aides said yesterday. The aides asked not to be quoted by name because official deadlines haven’t been set. Unlike in the Senate, House leaders haven’t committed to advancing a comprehensive immigration rewrite.
“It’s very wise that House Republicans are trying to position themselves to try and not look like they are slowing down or stopping immigration reform,” Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former congressional aide, said in an interview.
House leaders want to avoid being pressured into considering the Senate legislation if they don’t have proposals of their own. With budget issues and the debate over raising the federal debt ceiling probably taking up floor time in September and October, this month and July offer an opportunity for the House to produce an immigration plan, the aides said.
The last significant congressional effort to revise U.S. immigration law stalled in 2007. Republicans are trying to reconnect with Hispanics after Obama won most of the constituency’s votes in November.
Boehner and Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who leads the Judiciary Committee, have said the House will take a step-by-step approach. The panel is considering separate bills to address aspects of the immigration debate, including the flow of agricultural and high-technology workers to the U.S.
Goodlatte hasn’t said whether his committee will consider a comprehensive measure being drafted by a bipartisan group of House members. The Virginia Republican said he will review the measure after it’s introduced.
The bipartisan group has been working on an immigration plan for more than four years. The group last week lost a member, Idaho Republican Raul Labrador, who quit because of disagreements over whether undocumented immigrants seeking legal status should receive subsidized health benefits.
Labrador, a Tea Party favorite, said June 5 that he opposes an agreement among the three other Republicans and four Democrats in the negotiating group to offer subsidized health care to undocumented immigrants with provisional legal status.
“If we can’t agree on language on health care, then I think we have a long road to go,” Labrador said. “I am going to try to find my own way to reform immigration. I think there’s a better way. It has to pass the House.”
Divisions have emerged among Republicans over how much the measure’s border-security provisions should be strengthened. A co-author of the Senate bill, Florida Republican Marco Rubio, is working to craft an amendment that could draw Republican support.
Rubio hasn’t said whether he will seek to include elements of a proposal last week from Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn to impose new border-security requirements before undocumented U.S. immigrants can seek legal status.
New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democratic co-sponsor of the immigration measure, has said members of his party would oppose changes to those benchmarks.
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