WASHINGTON -- In a move that could effectively run out the clock on the DREAM Act, the Senate voted on Thursday to table its version of the bill. Although Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NEV.) plans to take up a version passed Wednesday through the House of Representatives, the brief Senate calendar makes it uncertain whether the bill will be passed before the end of the session.
The bill, which would create a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children, narrowly passed through the House. In the Senate, it faces a tougher battle given opposition by nearly all 42 Republicans and several undecided Democrats.
Without votes to pass the Senate's version of the DREAM Act, Reid attempted twice to set aside the bill but was blocked by Republicans before the bill was ultimately set aside in a 59-40 vote. Passing the House version would be the last chance to pass immigration reform legislation before a harsh anti-immigration GOP takes over the House next year.
A leadership aide said reports that the DREAM Act is now dead are inaccurate and that the added time before a vote on the House version will allow advocates to push for more support for the bill.
If the House-passed version is approved by the Senate, it could be signed into law without being sent back and forth between the chambers.
Advocates of the DREAM Act, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), praised the Senate's decision.
"We now have the weekend and into next week to launch a national mobilization to get the votes to enact this important bill that could literally change the course of hundreds of thousands of young lives and make our country and our military stronger," Gutierrez said in a statement.
But debate before the decision showed the tough road ahead for the DREAM Act if it comes up for a vote. Republican senators repeatedly called the bill "amnesty" and claimed it would lead to fraud by large numbers of illegal immigrants to gain legal status.
"These illegals who would be granted amnesty would be put in direct competition with American people for scarce resources," Vitter said.
The bill was revised last week to make it more difficult for beneficiaries to eventually become citizens. A six-year conditional status before beneficiaries could become legal permanent residents was extended to ten years. After becoming legal permanent residents, beneficiaries would have to wait three years before applying for citizenship. Only then could they petition for family members to have legal status.
Several Republicans said the DREAM Act was too costly to proceed, citing a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office that the bill could increase deficits after beneficiaries become eligible for Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the federal heath insurance exchanges.
Many undocumented immigrants pay taxes -- particularly payroll taxes -- but are not eligible for benefits from the government.
The White House and DREAM Act advocates argue the CBO report underestimated the economic contributions DREAM Act beneficiaries will make after becoming legal residents.
Despite opposition, Democrats pushed back against the idea the bill would be a free ride for illegal immigrants.
"Anything that is immigration-related, they'll use the word amnesty," Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said during debate. Amnesty is when you get something for nothing. I believe that wearing a uniform and risking your life and maybe losing it before you reach your dream -- that is not amnesty."