AS THE IMMIGRATION...

AS THE IMMIGRATION BILL TURNS. First, the good news. Arlen Specter's Judiciary Committee came through with a bill closely approximating the McCain-Kennedy proposal:

With Republicans deeply divided, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Monday to legalize the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants and ultimately to grant them citizenship, provided that they hold jobs, pass criminal background checks, learn English and pay fines and back taxes.

The panel also voted to create a vast temporary worker program that would allow roughly 400,000 foreigners to come to the United States to work each year and would put them on a path to citizenship as well.

The legislation, which the committee sent to the full Senate on a 12-to-6 vote, represents the most sweeping effort by Congress in decades to grant legal status to illegal immigrants.

And now, the bad news:

Any legislation that passes the Senate will have to be reconciled with the tough border security bill passed in December by the Republican-controlled House, which defied President Bush's call for a temporary worker plan.

And I refer to Brad Plumer to remind you how those reconciliation meetings go:

first President Bush would oppose it, then he would relentlessly accuse the minority party of raising taxes on all small businesses, most middle-class families, and a few cute puppies. After a few months of good hard Dem-whacking, the plan would die an ignoble death, only to be reintroduced into the Senate by Rick "Up For Re-election" Santorum, with only a few minor and wholly offensive tweaks. It would then get picked up, reluctantly lauded by bruised moderates, photographed in public places with its arms around President Bush, feted by liberal pundits desperately seeking a "compromise" and an "end to The Most Divisive Era Ever," and would finally squeak through the Senate. Then it's off to conference we go, where key House Republicans, along with select Democratic turncoats, would amend the bill beyond recognition, turn it into a disaster, and then quickly send the 12,000 page non-amendable "compromise" bill back to each house for a quick up-or-down vote.

This may all be moot, though. Specter's compromise could likely pass the Senate, but would do so without majority Republican support. By bringing it up on the accelerated timetable, he called Bill Frist's bluff. Now, rumblings from the Frist camp is that he simply won't bring it to the floor under the rationale that it lacks sufficient support from Republicans.

--Ezra Klein

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