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In first test, backers of immigration bill win

Published May 23, 2007


WASHINGTON - The Senate turned back an early attack on the broad immigration overhaul Tuesday, keeping alive a temporary worker provision that could bring in as many as 600, 000 foreign laborers each year.

Senators voted 64-31 to reject a proposal offered by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and supported by some labor unions to delete the program, which is one of the measure's key elements.

Seventeen Democrats joined 46 Republicans and independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut to oppose the amendment. Two Republicans joined 28 Democrats and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in backing it.

The vote was the first big test for the improbable coalition that wrote the measure and is struggling to keep the fragile deal from unraveling under pressure from across the political spectrum. Aware of the potent crosscurrents on the issue, leaders have abandoned an effort to speed the measure through the Senate this week, and now plan a final vote in June.

The bill still faces myriad assaults, including further Democratic attempts to limit or alter the temporary worker program, which would bring in foreign employees on two-year visas. A proposal by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to slash the number of annual visas available for temporary workers to 200, 000 could come up as early as today. A similar amendment passed the Senate last year by an overwhelming margin.

The bill would also toughen border security, give quick legal status to the estimated 12-million immigrants in the country unlawfully and create a workplace verification system to bar undocumented workers from getting jobs.

It would create a point system for future immigration applicants that would place less emphasis on family connections and more on education and skills in demand by U.S. businesses.

Republicans were considering efforts to strengthen the bill's security measures and make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get on the path to citizenship. Democrats were eyeing changes that would ensure more visas would be available for family members of permanent residents or U.S. citizens.

Conservatives, liberals and centrists who worked out the White House-backed deal are struggling to keep the bill intact. Coalition members meet each day to decide which proposed changes are deal breakers to what they call their "grand bargain." Dorgan's was considered one such poison pill.

Fast Facts:

Also in Congress on Tuesday

-The House voted to allow the government to sue the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries over oil production quotas. The bill passed 345-72, and a similar one awaits Senate action. The White House said President Bush would be advised to veto the bill.

-The House passed legislation to tighten federal oversight of the two biggest buyers of home mortgages, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and create a housing aid fund financed by the two. The bill passed 313-104 and awaits Senate action. However, the House version gave the federal regulator less authority than expected, jeopardizing White House support.

-The House voted 219-189 to kill a Republican bid to reprimand Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. Murtha does not dispute claims that he charged across the House floor Thursday to confront Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who had tried to strike a $23-million Murtha earmark. Rogers said Murtha told him, "You will not get any earmarks now and forever."

-People who shine laser pointers at airplanes could face up to five years in prison under legislation approved by the House on a voice vote. Supporters expect no obstacles in the Senate, but a similar bill passed by the House last session was never taken up by the Senate.

-The House passed legislation to combat the criminal use of Internet spyware and scams aimed at stealing personal information from computer users. Similar bills were approved by the House in the past, but not the Senate.

[Last modified May 23, 2007, 02:08:31]

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