WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday he believes Congress will be able to work out differences and pass an election-year immigration bill, calling reform too important to neglect.
"I think the committee bill which got to the floor has the key ingredients of a successful bill," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who has pledged to have legislation ready for debate soon after lawmakers return Monday from their two-week recess.
Specter noted that the Senate bill is aimed at protecting the borders, regulating the flow into the country of so-called guest workers and determining the legal future of the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.
"I think that there has to be an agreement between Democrats and Republicans on a list of amendments," he said. "And it would be a tough conference, candidly, with the House, but we were able to work through the Patriot Act although there were big disagreements."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., intends to seek passage of immigration legislation by Memorial Day by reviving the Senate bill that stalled earlier this month due to internal disputes in both parties as well as political maneuvering.
In a gesture to conservative critics of the measure, Republican leadership aides said last week that Frist also will seek roughly $2 billion in immediate additional spending for border protection.
Some conservatives have said the Senate bill is unacceptable because provisions allowing for eventual citizenship to some of the illegal immigrants already here amount to amnesty. An immigration bill passed by the House is largely limited to enforcement, imposing criminal penalties and proposing to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Sunday, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin said it is possible the Senate can pass a bill if "the administration will weigh in and the president will take a leadership role on this."
"We need a bipartisan bill. We need a comprehensive bill," said Levin of Michigan, who appeared with Specter on a cable news channel. "It's very possible we can get one, providing we address all of the problems, and not just one or two of them, since it's obvious our system is now broken."