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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Immigration, that snaggletooth of an issue that has set the Bush administration against its conservative base, is now driving a wedge between Republican leaders in the House and Senate as well. It seems that the House economic stimulus bill — which has White House support — does too little, in the eyes of some GOP senators, to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving benefits.

“The simple fact of the matter is that the House bill allows illegal immigrants to get rebate checks,” Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said yesterday on the chamber floor. “Plain and simple.” (Full statement here)

Grassley, the highest ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, was responding to a statement from the office of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) — reported here — that nothing in the House bill allows illegals to get rebate checks. To that, Grassley argued that nothing prevents them from getting checks either.

The debate mirrors another occurring last year, when House and Senate Republicans battled over a proposal to expand SCHIP, the popular children’s health program. The difference then was that it was House Republicans — notably Boehner — who opposed the bill, citing none other than an absence of language preventing illegal immigrants from enrolling in the program.

“It’s amazing how the standard has changed, isn’t it?” Grassley asked.

With Grassley’s input, the Senate has drafted an alternative stimulus bill that explicitly prevents illegals from receiving rebates. That proposal hit a wall yesterday, however, as Senate GOP leaders (minus Grassley) rallied enough opposition to block a vote on the bill. (It wasn’t the immigrant language that inspired the disfavor, but several other provisions that hiked the cost of the Senate package about $12 billion above that of the House proposal).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to return to the issue next week, when presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama return to Washington following next Tuesday’s primary extravaganza. Whether their return is enough to push support to the 60 votes needed, however, remains to be seen.

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