While expressing disappointment with the collapse of a sweeping immigration reform bill in the Senate, small-business groups are hoping many of its key provisions will resurface on a more incremental basis.
The bill, which supporters said would have balanced tougher border security with a temporary worker program, was blocked on Thursday mostly by Senate Republicans opposed to the creation of a path to legal status for the nation's 12 million undocumented workers. Despite strong support from the White House, it fell 14 votes short of the 60 required to end debate and proceed to a final vote. It was the second time in as many weeks the bill failed to clear a procedural hurdle.
"This vote ignores the very real economic needs of farmers and small-business owners," Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said following Thursday's vote. "The current system is broken, but there were not enough senators willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work to fix it."
Earlier this month, a coalition of national small-business advocacy and trade groups had pressed lawmakers to hammer out the many issues outlined in the legislation in an open debate -- even as they disagreed with many of the provisions.
"American citizens and American businesses need to have confidence that there is a clear practical plan in place to address the need for border security and the need for additional workers," Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's executive vice president of government affairs, said in a statement issued after the vote. "This issue is not going away."
For these groups, one key initiative in the bill that remains unresolved is the creation of a national employee verification system and the legal consequences for employers who hire illegal workers.
"There are a lot of concerns out there among business owners about how they're going to be expected to comply with these kinds of mandates," said Karen Kerrigan, the president of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, a Washington-based advocacy group.
While Reid and others have said immigration reform will likely be on hold until after the 2008 election cycle, Kerrigan said many of the more pressing issues -- from border security to a temporary worker program -- could still be taken up as standalone initiatives.
"That's usually the case with broad legislative packages," Kerrigan said. "When the Clinton health-care bill collapsed, that didn't end consideration of deductibles for small business or health savings accounts or other health-care reform measures."
Like Josten, Kerrigan said immigration is an issue that's "not going to go away."