Senate immigration deal text not available

By Rafael DeGennaro, May 18, 2007 – 1:38pm.

For those who thought electing a Democratic Senate majority would completely solve the problem of lack of adequate time to read bills, the absent immigration deal text is a bad omen. The text is not available Friday even though floor debate will begin early next week.

On Thur., May 17, senators held a press conference to announce the deal. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said, “Language will be available, we’re hopeful, by mid- or late afternoon or first thing in the morning. We had set that so Friday, so people will be able to go on over that, and we start in on Monday.” But Friday, May 18 at 11 AM, Kennedy’s deputy communications director told me that the text would not be introduced until Monday, and would not be available before then.

This is a complex topic, but that is no excuse for beginning Senate floor debate on major legislation without giving the public (or even senators) time to read the bill text properly.

This bill is really important. On Thur., May 17, 2007, the Washington Post reported:
The Bush administration and a bipartisan group of senators reached agreement yesterday on a sprawling overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws […] The delicate compromise, 380 pages long and three months in the making… could become the most significant revision of the nation’s immigration system in 41 years.”

The Washington Post carried a transcript of the press conference. Below are some excerpts that reveal the following:
(1) Even as the deal was announced, some details were still not settled, at least not in the minds of the senators who negotiated it. See especially the exchange on ag jobs involving Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) below.
(2) At least some of the deal has not been drafted as legislative language, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) notes.
(3) The language matters, because, as Sen. Mel Martinez (D-FL) said, “The deal is complex, very, very complicated piece of legislation.”

Washington Post
transcript of May 17 press conference (via CQ Transcripts Wire)
May 18, 2007

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.: […] Hard to get 10 senators in one room for two-and-a-half hours, but that has been done as we have molded a 380-page document which provides the core of what we believe will be a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

***

GRAHAM: […] We’ve been in rooms together early in the morning, late at night, going line by line

***

MARTINEZ: […] And it’s a very, very complicated piece of legislation.

***

(UNKNOWN): […] Senator Feinstein, we still have some language to work out on Ag Jobs, but we’re going to get there, because I have never seen…
(UNKNOWN): It’s in.
(LAUGHTER)
(UNKNOWN): Your language is in.
(UNKNOWN): My language is in. Thank you.
I appreciate that, Dianne.
FEINSTEIN: That’s not entirely true.
(LAUGHTER)

***

GRAHAM: It’ll be overwhelming. As long as the agreement holds together — it’s got to be drafted. The language does matter.

***

KENNEDY: Let me just add to that. It’s very important that this legislation get on the floor of the United States Senate, because different members have read different stories and have different understandings and then different interpretations.
And language will be available, we’re hopeful, by mid- or late afternoon or first thing in the morning. We had set that so Friday, so people will be able to go on over that, and we start in on Monday.