By Mike Lillis - 12/07/10 01:06 AM EST
Congress is poised to vote this week on contentious legislation carving a pathway to legal status for hundreds of thousands of undocumented students living in the United States.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday filed cloture on the DREAM Act, setting the stage for an upper-chamber vote as early as Wednesday morning. House Democrats, meanwhile, might vote on the measure even earlier the same day.
The measure is not expected to pass the upper chamber, where lawmakers shot down a similar measure in September and where 60 votes will be needed to defeat a Republican filibuster. But by insisting on the two separate votes this week, Democrats are hoping to draw a clear and very public distinction between themselves and Republicans on the topic of immigration reform — in part as a way to court the ever-growing voting bloc of Hispanic Americans.
“We are working to coordinate with the Senate to ensure the greatest likelihood of successfully getting a bill signed into law,” said a senior House Democratic aide.
The DREAM Act offers a pathway to permanent residency — and eventually citizenship — for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children if they meet certain requirements. They must have been in the country for at least five years; have earned a high school diploma, or its equivalent; and enter an institution of higher education or the military.
Supporters say the bill would empower motivated young individuals to become more productive — and tax-paying — members of society. Opponents argue it rewards people who broke the law in entering the country.
Proponents of the bill got a boost last week when the Congressional Budget Office estimated the Senate version will cut deficit spending by $1.4 billion over the next decade. Beyond 2020, however, the CBO says the bill would begin to cost money, as beneficiaries begin to become citizens. The CBO estimated the bill would increase projected deficits by between $5 billion and $20 billion between 2021 and 2061.
The House bill has yet to be scored, though supporters are expecting similar figures to emerge.
Because $2.8 billion in savings is off-budget, House Democrats will need to come up with $1.4 billion in offsets to abide by their own pay-as-you-go rules. A House Democratic leadership aide said the offsets have not yet been determined.
Opponents of the bill have pounced on the CBO numbers, arguing the country can’t afford the new costs.
“The DREAM Act not only undermines economic opportunities for Americans, it also makes it less likely that either state governments or the federal government will bring their budgets into balance,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) wrote Monday in a FOXNews.com op-ed.
DREAM Act proponents have a different take. They argue that the deportation strategies urged by opponents would be the more costly option.
“Mass deportation or policies designed to spark a mass exodus are clearly beyond the scope of reality,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), an adamant backer of the bill, wrote Monday in a separate Fox op-ed.
“How could choosing to have a less-educated and less well-trained workforce possibly be a benefit to society? We want a more-educated workforce fully taxed within the legitimate economy. This is why the DREAM Act, if anything, is likely to be a net revenue generator for the federal government.”
The Senate shot down a similar measure in 2007, with 12 Republicans — seven of whom remain in Congress — voting in favor. Eight Democrats — seven still in their seats — voted against.
Most of those aisle-crossing lawmakers have been silent on where they stand three years later. The offices of GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Sam Brownback (Kan.) did not respond to requests for comment, nor did those of Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.) or Claire McCaskill (Mo.).
The office of newly seated Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who’s vowed to oppose a number of the Democrats’ legislative priorities, also declined to comment. The office of Sen. Byron Dorgan said only that the North Dakota Democrat, who’s retiring at the end of the year, remains undecided.
In the House, DREAM Act supporters are confident they have the votes to pass the measure this week. With lawmakers scheduled to return to Washington on Tuesday, the Rules Committee could take up the legislation as early as Tuesday evening, setting the stage for an early vote Wednesday.
“I don’t think we’ll sit around waiting for what the Senate does,” the Democratic leadership aide said. “Once we have the votes lined up, we’ll move.”