Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch is worried that Democratic leaders may break their promise to work with him on a series of immigration-reform amendments and instead try to pass a bill with the fewest number of votes necessary.
He took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to issue a rather blunt warning.
"I don't want to be stiffed at this time," said Hatch, R-Utah, "and I'm not the kind of guy who takes stiffing lightly."
The senator was responding to a report in Politico that detailed a rift among Democratic leaders. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has aimed for at least 70 votes in favor of immigration reform in the 100-member Senate, a move he hopes would pressure the GOP-controlled House to pass a similar bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., are worried that Republicans will exact considerable concessions to secure those votes, so Democrats may attempt to simply settle for the 60 votes it takes to end the debate.
"Needless to say, I think that would be a serious mistake," Hatch said. "Immigration reform is too big to just be done by one party, and it can't be done with just a small handful of Republicans, as courageous as those Republicans have been so far."
He's referring to the four Republicans who joined with four Democrats to draft the so-called Gang of Eight immigration bill providing a lengthy path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants here illegally, bolstering spending on border security and reducing visa backlogs.
Hatch voted for the measure in the Senate Judiciary Committee and says he wants to do so again when the full Senate votes later this month. But he is making his vote contingent on four amendments dealing with taxes and federal benefits that he is sponsoring with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a sponsor of the bill.
"I'm laying down the gauntlet," Hatch said. "I want immigration reform to succeed. These amendments will help it succeed."
The most prominent of his four amendments would require undocumented immigrants to pay back taxes for every year they have been in the country illegally, a proposal that some bill supporters consider cumbersome, especially for those paid wages under the table. They also worry it will create a financial burden that will keep some immigrants from seeking legal status, which is a major goal of the legislation.
Hatch says the Internal Revenue Service has ways to help these immigrants estimate what they owe, and he considers it a matter of fairness for those who want to be citizens to pay into the system.
His other three amendments would delay access to subsidies under the Affordable Care Act for five years after an immigrant obtained a green card, prohibit an immigrant from counting years worked illegally toward Social Security eligibility and stop the government from waiving welfare restrictions.
Schumer and Hatch have entered negotiations on these amendments and, on Wednesday, Schumer mentioned Hatch's ideas in a floor speech, contrasting them with a border security amendment he believes is unworkable.
Schumer's office did not immediately respond to a request to comment on Hatch's concerns.