By Alexander Bolton - 06/27/13 04:39 PM EDT
The Senate voted 68-32 Thursday to end debate on immigration legislation, clearing the way for the landmark bill to pass later in the day.
The bill’s authors fell just short of their goal to win 70 votes for the legislation but said the robust bipartisan vote creates a strong mandate for the House to act next month on the issue. Fourteen Republicans voted to end debate, and no Democrats opposed it.
The final vote will take place at 4 p.m.
The legislation still has a tough road if it is to become law. Many House Republicans oppose granting legal status to millions of immigrants who came to the country illegally.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that any immigration legislation, including a conference report with the Senate, must win the support of a majority of his conference to move forward.
“For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members,” Boehner said at his weekly Capitol press conference. He reiterated that the House would not simply take up and vote on the Senate bill.
Proponents say the legislation is a long-needed fix of the nation’s “broken” immigration system and argue that failure to act ensures a “de facto amnesty” for millions of people already living and working in the country illegally.
Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the lead Democratic author of the bill, said he was happy with the outcome despite being short of his 70-vote goal.
"We wanted to get a significant number of Republicans to vote for the bill,” he said on MSNBC Thursday morning. “And what does that mean? It means that when the bill goes to the House, there's going to be pressure on them to do something. So we're feeling pretty good about how we did."
The sweeping bill would put an estimated 8 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship and spend $46 billion to tighten the nation’s borders.
It would also increase the number of visas for high-skilled and agricultural workers and give more weight to educational and employment factors in granting visas.
The bill’s sponsors expanded the pool of Republican support earlier this week by amending the legislation to authorize 20,000 additional border patrol agents and the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the southern border. The amendment also ensured that immigrants could not claim Social Security benefits for the time they worked in the country illegally.
That fell short of the demands of a majority of Republicans who called for a guarantee of 100 percent situational awareness, or full monitoring, and a 90-percent apprehension rate of illegal entrants be achieved along the southern border before granting permanent legal status to millions of immigrants.
“That’s where negotiations really around this bill hung up,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who authored the "border surge" amendment and voted to advance the bill to final passage.
The legislation received another boost last week when the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would reduce the deficit by $197 billion over the next decade and by $700 billion between 2024 and 2033.
But many Republicans said they were concerned by the report’s projection that if the legislation becomes law, as many of 7 million illegal immigrants will still be living in the country 10 years from now.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on Thursday acknowledged the system needs to be reformed but said the pending legislation falls short.
“It is not a bill that reflects a commitment to a lawful system of immigration in the future,” he said on the Senate floor. “We will admit dramatically more people than we ever have in our country’s history at a time when unemployment is high and the Congressional Budget Office have told us that wages, average wages will go down for 12 years, that gross domestic product per capita will decline for 25-plus years.”
Some Republicans complained that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shut down the amendment process. The Senate voted on only 10 of the more than 500 amendments filed to the bill.
Reid said there were not additional votes because the bill’s opponents objected to various proposals to consider amendments.
Reid’s office has noted that the Senate Judiciary Committee considered 212 amendments and adopted more than 40 Republican-sponsored amendments during its markup in May.
— Russell Berman and Ramsey Cox contributed.