Reid Angers GOP by Pushing Four Versions of DREAM Act Without Hearing

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pushed four different versions of the controversial immigration bill known as the DREAM Act without a hearing on any of them, drawing outrage from the top Republican on the committee that would have handled the package.

The Nevada senator, who narrowly escaped a defeat in the November election, has pursued an unusual approach to advancing the bill that gives young illegal immigrants who attend college or join the military a pathway to legal status.

Since September, his deputy Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has introduced four slightly different versions all bearing the same name. Reid has moved them all to the calendar -- he appears to be teeing up for a test vote, which could happen sometime later this week, on the latest version introduced on Tuesday.

But Republicans balked at the maneuvering. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, railed against the bill and the process Democrats were using to push it.

"We now may have a fourth version of the DREAM Act," Sessions said Wednesday. "We haven't had a hearing on that in seven years."

He decried the bill as "amnesty" and pledged to fight it "with every strength and every ability that I have."

A statement to put out by the Republican side of the Senate Judiciary Committee said all four versions have the same "fundamental" problems, but that Democrats' approach causes unnecessary confusion.

"Democrat leaders, in their rush to pass an unpopular bill during the lame-duck session, have completely bypassed the Judiciary Committee. They have introduced four separate versions of the same bill and, without any committee review, placed each and every one of them on the legislative calendar," the statement said. "This unusual approach creates a chaotic situation, one that makes it more difficult for the public and their representatives -- as well as the press -- to review this deeply controversial measure."

A representative from Reid's office could not be reached for comment.

The latest version of the bill was not available online, but a Senate source said it would lower from 35 to 30 the age at which an illegal immigrant would be eligible to go through the program.

The new version also made illegal immigrants who had committed marriage or voter fraud ineligible, the source said, though those responsible for other infractions like document fraud could still apply.

The changes could be a sign that Democratic leaders are watering down the bill in response to behind-the-scenes grumbling in the Democratic caucus. But the changes appear unlikely to win much support from the Republican side.

All 42 Senate Republicans signed a letter Wednesday vowing to block any legislation until a government spending bill is passed and the Bush tax cuts, set to expire at the end of the year, are extended. A couple of Senate Republicans could cross over once those issues are resolved, but Reid would still have defecting Democrats on his hands.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., wrote in a column on his Senate website that he would oppose the plan to give "hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants" a path to residency.

"I'm not going to support any legislation that I don't think adds to jobs, or to the military or to the economy. Consequently, I won't support any motion to proceed or any kind of cloture measure on the DREAM Act," he wrote. "In addition, I think that it must be part of an overall comprehensive solution to immigration once we have the border secured, and not until then."

Democratic groups, though, are putting on the pressure. Organizing for America sent out an e-mail urging supporters to call moderate Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both from Maine, and urge them to vote yes.

Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine said the bill would help build the military, urging Republicans to support it.

"The DREAM Act is based on two very simple principles: that children brought up in this country should not be penalized for the actions of their parents and that our country is made stronger by hard-working immigrants who are willing to do what it takes to build a better life in America in a way that makes our country both stronger and more secure," Kaine said in a statement.

But Sessions argued that the bill is not as innocuous as it sounds.

"This is not a good idea, it's not well written, it does far more than its supporters say, and it will create litigation in massive amounts that will disrupt the entire ability of immigration officials to do their jobs," he said.