Tough Prospects for DREAM Act’s Lame Duck Passage

Julianne Hing Nov 9, 2010

Days before he won his Senate re-election campaign against Sharron Angle, Harry Reid took to Spanish-language television and promised, should he win, to raise the DREAM Act in Congress’s lame duck session

“I have the right to do that, you know, I have the right to bring that up any time I want, that’s why I brought it up the first time,” Reid said on “Al Punto.” “I am a believer in our needing to do something…We all support the DREAM Act. I just need a handful of Republicans to help me.”

The moment was recorded for posterity, and DREAM Act activists will not let him forget his words, especially since many Latino advocacy and immigrant rights groups have taken credit for Reid’s re-election.

But will it move? Even the most optimistic DREAM Act advocates agree the bill faces an uphill battle. Democrats lost six seats in the Senate last week, and DREAM Act activists estimate the DREAM Act needs somewhere between seven to eleven Republicans to pass now, where before the election they only needed between two and five. Reid has said he’s confident that he’s got Democrats behind him, which would actually mean he’d only need the support of two Republicans. The DREAM Act needs sixty votes to beat a filibuster.

A central talking point of DREAM Act advocates is that it is not only practical legislation—it would grant undocumented youth who commit to higher education or the military a chance to become citizens—but that it has also enjoyed a long history of bipartisan support. Advocates have been trying to pass the DREAM Act for almost a decade now, but many of the bill’s past Republican supporters have since changed their tunes. Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch, two outspoken politicians who’ve banked on anti-immigrant rhetoric to save their seats, were once cosponsors of the DREAM Act.

When Reid attempted to attach the DREAM Act and a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal to the defense authorization bill in September, Republicans like Richard Lugar and Bob Bennett used a variety of excuses to explain why they didn’t support it then. They disagreed with it being attached to the DOD bill, but would support a standalone version. Still others like Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe shared little about what it would take to get them to vote for the DREAM Act.

This morning the Hill reports that Reid will not have an easy time passing the bills he promised his constituents he’d bring up to a vote. The Hill spoke with a senior Republican aide who said the party will use the lame duck session to focus on extending Bush-era tax cuts instead of “controversial legislation” like the DREAM Act.

To complicate matters, the lame duck Senate composition will be altered slightly if Mark Kirk, the newly elected Republican Senator for Illinois, is sworn in in a few weeks. Despite aggressive DREAM Act lobbying, Kirk remains a staunch opponent of the DREAM Act.

The Senate doesn’t return for official business until November 15, and will be taking time off for Thanksgiving and the holidays, which leaves precious few days to get the DREAM Act passed if it’s going to happen before the next Congress.

This article was originally published on ColorLines.

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