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Senate apparent meltdown on immigration: Durbin's 14-hours of negotiations.

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``We hoped that after all of the jubilation over a bi-partisan agreement, that we could move towards a process that led to passage of the bill.’’

---Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) after a 14-hour marathon day of negotiating on the immigration bill, near 10 p.m. eastern time, briefing reporters in the Senate Press Gallery.

In the morning, Durbin and a bi-partisan coalition announced a deal. In the evening, problems: a meltdown over process.

Two issues:
1. Democrats want to limit the number of amendments that can be debated on the deal. GOP opponents to the bipartisan deal have a slew of amendments they want to offer.

Durbin said an anticipated large number of amendments would be the equivalent of a filibuster.

Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who helped broker the bi-partisan immigration provisions, said this is an unfair demand from Democrats.

2. Democrats want Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Az.) to agree in advance who he will pick to be on an immigration bill House-Senate conference committee.

If the Senate passes an immigration bill, it will be vastly different from the measure the House passed on Dec. 16. The two versions would have to be reconciled if a bill is to get to the president to sign. A bill can be virtually rewritten at this stage.

``We are concerned whether or not this Congress will have the strength to go up against Jim Sensenbrenner,’’ said Durbin.

The reference is to House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) whose namesake bill the House passed on Dec. 16.

Sensenbrenner would be on the conference committee and he is against most of what the Democrats want in the immigration bill.

Congress leaves for a two-week Spring Break on Friday.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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