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Bingaman: Compromise On Bill 'Unlikely'

By Jeff Jones
Journal Politics Writer
    Sen. Jeff Bingaman said Wednesday he has some doubts whether Congress can hammer out a compromise immigration bill before it adjourns for the year in early October.
    "We have 17 more weeks of session. It is unlikely we are going to move mountains in that period," Bingaman, D-N.M., said during a Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce speech in Albuquerque's Embassy Suites hotel.
    After the speech, Bingaman said, "There's a big gap. I don't know that can be bridged easily— but I hope I'm wrong."
    The immigration debate is currently front and center in U.S. politics.
    A Senate plan to strengthen border security and give millions of illegal immigrants a chance for citizenship stalled last week just before Congress recessed for a two-week break.
    The House last year passed its own immigration bill that also would bolster border security. But the House-passed measure contains no temporary worker program.
    "It's clear we're not doing what we should at the borders," Bingaman told the lunch crowd Wednesday. "The part we disagree upon is exactly what is the solution."
    He said it's "very possible" the Senate will pass its version of immigration reform this year, but reconciling Senate legislation with House legislation— a necessary step for sending a bill to President Bush— would be tough.
    Bingaman isn't the only member of New Mexico's congressional delegation to express doubts: Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said recently that reaching an agreement this year could be impossible.
    The New Mexico Republican Party in a Wednesday news release announced it has launched a Spanish-language radio ad accusing Democrats of "playing politics" on the immigration issue. The ad, which the state GOP said will air statewide for the next two weeks, does not specifically target any member of New Mexico's congressional delegation.
    On another issue Wednesday, Bingaman said that he is optimistic about passing a bill sponsored by himself and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., aimed at improving math and science education in America.
    Bingaman said the bill would authorize such an education boost but not actually fund it. The funding would have to be addressed in another bill.
    "We are not doing what we need to be doing ... to train people to go into science, to go into math," Bingaman said.
    He added Congress needs to stay focused on that issue.
    "We're very good in Washington at getting excited and enthusiastic ... and then we lose interest," Bingaman said.


E-MAIL writer Jeff Jones