WASHINGTON – A fragile Senate coalition backing an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws survived its first legislative test Tuesday, beating back an effort to strip a guest-worker program from the immigration bill.
Senators voted 64-31 against an amendment by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and supported by some labor unions to strip the program
Democrats vowed they would come back to the program again and again, with amendments to cut the guest-worker program’s size in half, to add an expiration date for the program, to torpedo the program if workers do not comply with the rules, and to bolster worker protections for participants.
A proposal by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to slash the number of annual visas available for temporary workers to 200,000 could come up as early as today. A similar amendment passed the Senate last year by an overwhelming margin.
The immigration bill would set up a guest-worker visa program for 400,000 temporary workers a year. If demand is high enough, temporary-worker visas could expand to 600,000 a year. The two-year visas would be renewable up to three times, provided that the workers leave the country for a year between two-year stints.
Opponents of the program said it would reduce wages of U.S. workers, while creating an underclass of low-paid migrants with no access to the protections of citizenship.
Troop withdrawal dropped
As expected, House Democratic leaders on Tuesday dropped their insistence that the Iraq war-spending bill include a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal, clearing the way to end a lengthy standoff with President Bush.
The measure will include benchmarks that the Baghdad government must meet to continue to receive U.S. reconstruction aid, although the president will be allowed to waive those requirements.
The House and Senate are expected to vote on the approximately $120 billion bill, which funds military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, this week.
House OKs suing OPEC
The House voted 345-72 Tuesday to allow the government to sue OPEC over oil production quotas.
The White House objected, saying that might disrupt supplies and lead to even higher costs at the pump. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is the cartel that accounts for 40 percent of the world’s oil.
Separately at a House hearing, Guy Caruso, chief of the Energy Department’s statistical agency, said gasoline prices “may ease somewhat.” But he said pressure on gas prices will remain strong “with the hurricane season approaching, continued tight refinery conditions, low gas inventories and increased demand for summer travel.”
Lasers and airplanes
People who shine laser pointers at airplanes could face up to five years in prison under legislation approved Tuesday by the House. The National Transportation Safety Board has documented two instances in which pilots sustained eye injuries and were incapacitated during critical phases of a flight.
Fight against spyware
The House passed legislation Tuesday to combat the criminal use of Internet spyware, software that secretly collects information about a person or organization and sends it to another entity without the user’s consent.
The bill makes it a criminal offense, subject to a prison term of up to five years, to access a computer without authorization to further another federal criminal offense. Obtaining or transmitting personal information with the intent of injuring or defrauding a person or damaging a computer is punishable by up to two years in prison.
Some lawmakers cited estimates that up to 90 percent of computers in this country are infected with some form of spyware.
Bills that clear the House now go to the Senate, which in some cases is crafting its own legislation.