The immigration overhaul bill fell short of the needed 60 Senate votes late last week, leaving the bipartisan legislation in limbo. The proposed bill might have given a path to citizenship to millions of people who are unlawfully in the U.S.

In an exclusive interview with BUILDER Online, Jerry Howard, CEO of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), says the bill stalled for a "variety of reasons."

"Not the least of which, from our perspective, is that the senators became very aware of the impact it would have on small business," Howard said Tuesday morning. "We were fortunate enough to have roughly 1,300 builders on Capitol Hill the day before the [closure] vote. The No. 1 message is that the immigration bill, as written, while it would protect the borders, and that's great, it has a very significant negative impact on small businesses that it doesn't have to have.

"We were unable to get through any of the amendments that we needed, and we'd like to think that we had some sort of impact on how the Senate voted," Howard continued. "Now, having said that, it is important that going forward we're still interested in amending the bill and trying something that protects the borders, fixes the immigration system, and keeps an available workforce in place for America's home builders."

Howard added that the NAHB is continuing to work with several senators, including those who voted against closure, to "seek some small business-related improvements in an effort to get them to change their views."

As the public and political debate continues to swirl, President George W. Bush paid a visit to Capitol Hill Tuesday to discuss the immigration bill with the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

"Some members in there believe that we need to move a comprehensive bill, some don't, I understand that," Bush said in a written statement. "This is a highly emotional issue, but those of us standing here believe now is the time to move a comprehensive bill that enforces our borders and has good workplace enforcement, that doesn't grant automatic citizenship, that addresses this problem in a comprehensive way."

"I would hope that the Senate Majority Leader has that same sense of desire to move the product that I do, or the bill that I do and these senators do, because now is the time to get it done," the president continued. "It's going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of effort. We've got to convince the American people that this bill is the best way to enforce our border. I believe without the bill that it's going to be harder to enforce the border. The status quo was unacceptable. I want to thank those senators on both sides of the aisle who understand the time is now to move a comprehensive piece of legislation. The White House will stay engaged."

Senate Minority Leader Mitchell McConnell (R-Ky.) says the importance of the bill supports the need for more debate.

"Immigration reform is one of the most important issues facing our nation, and it deserves our full consideration. Rushing this bill benefits no one," McConnell states in a press release. "The Senate cannot call the bill 'complete' if we've not been able to offer amendments to improve and strengthen the reform. Progress on such an important issue should not be measured by calendar days, but by Senators having the opportunity to debate and vote on their ideas to improve the bill.

"At the beginning of this session, I challenged the Senate to come up with a solution on immigration. I count myself among those who want to mark this as a Senate accomplishment. But I cannot support ending debate on this bill when there are still so many issues to consider."

McConnell's sentiments echo the NAHB's recent stand. The NAHB has publicly stated that it is against the language of the current bill. In a previous interview with BUILDER Online, Howard said builders should not be expected to enforce the law by having to monitor who their contractors hire.

The organization also has issues with a proposed program to provide a future flow of immigrant workers for the construction industry, calling it unwieldy and unworkable. In addition, the NAHB predicts the legislation would increase opportunities for lawsuits against employers.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) says Republicans are obstructing the legislation's progress.

"I am deeply disappointed that so many of our Republican colleagues have blocked tough, fair, and practical immigration reform," Reid says in a released statement. "The White House has had six months to work with Senate Republicans toward a solution, yet it failed to show the necessary leadership to get this bill passed.

"Senate Democrats have given Senate Republicans ample time to amend this bill, twice extending the timeline for debate. We have gone out of our way to make this process fair and equitable, moving through more than 40 amendments - including 20 yesterday alone. Yet as much as they talk about the importance and urgency of immigration reform, a group of Senate Republicans has irresponsibly turned its back on border security and the 12 million people who are living in the shadows of our society. The immigration system remains broken. Senate Republicans and the White House must come to the table in good faith if we are to fix it."

Thirty-seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one Independent voted to extend the debate of the bill while 38 Republicans, 11 Democrats, and one Independent voted against it.

Editor's note: This week, BUILDER Online's weekly poll asks if you support the immigration overhaul bill as it was or do you think it requires more debate?

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