By MICHAEL DOYLE and MARGARET TALEV
June 07, 2006
Negotiations between the House and Senate have not begun this week - as some hoped they could - because of a seemingly arcane but politically potent tax wrinkle in the Senate's immigration bill.
Conservatives insist there is a serious constitutional flaw with the Senate legislation passed May 25, but the fight now bursting into the open reveals broader personal and institutional tensions that will complicate the coming weeks.
"They think there's a problem because they want a problem," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday. "They don't want to go to conference."
In Congress, legislation dealing with tax revenue must originate in the House. The House's border security bill does not deal with taxes. The Senate's version of immigration reform, however, includes a provision collecting back taxes for illegal immigrants seeking permanent residence.
Republicans say this could trigger a "blue slip," a formal objection by the House issued on a blue sheet of paper that could shut down talks.
Wednesday, Bush is bringing his immigration reform pitch to Nebraska, following stops Tuesday in Texas and New Mexico. He's urging a combination of tougher border security with a comprehensive approach that includes guest workers, and he's professing optimism.
"I'm going to work with Congress to pass a comprehensive bill I can pass into law," Bush told Border Patrol agents at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, N.M. "We're making progress toward a comprehensive bill."
With the House and Senate having passed separate immigration bills, the next step is appointment of negotiators to work out the myriad differences. The House, however, has not yet appointed negotiators to the so-called conference committee because of the unexpected constitutional issue snaring the Senate's bill.
There are several ways the parliamentary obstacle can be overcome.
On Monday, Reid quietly tried to correct the problem by hijacking the House-passed border security bill. With few senators present, Reid sought to take up the House bill, replace its language with the Senate-passed bill, and then have the new package passed by voice vote.
Republicans blocked the maneuver.
"It will be a contentious conference, in any event," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned, adding it was important "we do not get derailed by some parliamentary technicality."
Republicans in the leadership say the issue could be resolved by attaching the Senate's immigration bill to an unrelated tax bill passed by the House and sent over to the Senate.
Reid objected to that.
"If they just take a tax bill to conference, does that mean they're going to repeal the estate tax there in the immigration bill?" he said. "Does it mean they're going to do some of their other things for wealthy Americans, cut taxes more for other people?"
Traditionally, so-called blue slip objections are raised by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; in this case, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif.
Thomas has not yet indicated whether he would, in fact, blue-slip the Senate immigration bill. Unlike a majority of House Republicans, Thomas voted against the House's border security bill in December because he favors a more comprehensive immigration approach.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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