The comprehensive immigration reform legislation pending in the Senate already appeared to be on track for passage, at least in the upper chamber, but proponents have ambitions of an overwhelming bipartisan majority -- largely to send a message to the House.
To that end, Gang of Eight members approached some Senate Republicans with a simple question: what more will it take to get your vote? They said they wanted even more border security.
And as of this morning, that's what they'll get.
A bipartisan group of senators have reached an agreement to strengthen border security in the Senate's immigration bill, a breakthrough that could pave the way for a significant number of GOP senators to support the comprehensive legislation.Senate aides from both parties tell NBC News that the agreement would double the size of the border patrol and require 700 miles of border fencing. The group has also compromised on a series of other issues, including the E-Verify program for businesses and benefits.The senators involved -- Republicans John Hoeven and Bob Corker, who have been working with Gang of Eight members Sens. Chuck Schumer, Bob Menendez, John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- have dubbed it the "border surge" plan; they're preparing a Thursday announcement.
Oh good, a "surge." As if immigration policy needed a little more militarization.
Regardless, how expansive is this "surge"? Corker appeared on msnbc this morning and said his plan, which will apparently be incorporated into the bipartisan bill is "almost overkill."
He's right. Under current policy, the border is already as secure as it's ever been. Hiring 40,000 border-patrol agents is almost comical.
That said, it should also take away the last of opponents' excuses. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued on Tuesday that the border security provisions in the Gang of Eight bill are "weak" and "laughable." By any fair measure, this wasn't true, but now that these same provisions are "almost overkill," what more do House Republicans have to complain about?
As for why Senate Democrats would go along with this, why not? The Republicans demanded an amendment that boosts public-sector hiring and invests in new technologies -- hey look, stimulus! -- while excluding "triggers" and any changes to the pathway to citizenship.
Sure, it'll cost $30 billion to make these changes, but both sides figure they have money to burn -- the overall bill is set to reduce the deficit by nearly $200 billion in the next decade, and nearly $1 trillion over the next 20 years. If using some of those funds to increase border security even more will boost the legislation's odds of passage, Democrats seem to believe it's a price worth paying.
There is a certain irony to a legislation remedy that makes conservative Republicans happy by spending more public funds, hiring more public-sector employees, and reducing the score of deficit reduction, but GOP lawmakers' commitment to these principles has always been rather malleable anyway.
We don't yet know how many "no" votes will flip as a result of these changes -- in fact, the agreement itself will probably not be formally introduced until later today -- but Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said this morning that he's prepared to drop his opposition to the bill in light of the "border surge" plan.