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Senate avoids poison pill; immigration debate advances

California Democrat Barbara Boxer has half a dozen amendments she wants added to the Senate immigration bill.
California Democrat Barbara Boxer has half a dozen amendments she wants added to the Senate immigration bill.
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Immigration reform jumped a giant hurdle Thursday as Senate Democrats killed a poison pill amendment designed to stall legalization of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. It's the first of a long list of amendments to the Senate's immigration reform bill — including one that could help L.A. and other Southern California counties.

The amendment from the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley of Iowa, would have postponed legalization for undocumented immigrants until the U.S.-Mexico border is secure for six months. The measure failed 57-43 in a procedural move by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. 

It's the first of many amendments, including a number of tough border security measures. But the way the Majority Leader handled this first amendment infuriated Grassley, who labeled the "so-called open and fair process a farce."

California Democrat Barbara Boxer has proposed several amendments, including one that would reimburse providers — such as L.A. County — for the cost of treating uninsured, undocumented patients in hospital emergency rooms. She called it a "national opportunity to say counties and cities are going to have this extra burden and let's help them a little bit."

The Senate bill currently forbids spending federal dollars on health care for undocumented people.

Boxer wants a $250 million "citizen transition health fund" to reimburse local governments for health care, coming from fees collected from those applying for legal status. But it's not a lot of money: L.A. County currently gets $600 million a year in federal funds to partially reimburse hospitals for treating the uninsured. 

Boxer's and other amendments will be taken up again starting next week.

Reid told Senators to stick around the weekend of June 22-23 for immigration votes. He wants a floor vote on the entire package before the Senate adjourns for the 4th of July break.

Also Thursday, members of the so-called House "Gang of Seven" — who've been negotiating their own comprehensive bill — briefed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. According to a Democratic aide, negotiators stressed that the bill-in-progress does not represent what they would have drafted on their own, but rather a bipartisan effort.