WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Backers of a broad U.S. immigration overhaul on Friday began efforts to revive the stalled bipartisan package in the U.S. Senate amid partisan bickering over who is to blame for the bill's failure.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who helped lead months of painstaking negotiations that produced the fragile compromise, said: "We are not giving up. We are not giving in."
The bill ties tough border security and workplace enforcement measures to a temporary worker program and a plan to legalize most of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. It also would create a new merit-based system for future immigration.
It was shelved on Thursday after backers failed to win the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to advance to a final vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the Senate could return to the controversial bill at another time, giving hope to the bill's advocates that they may be able to work with other lawmakers to make it happen.
President George W. Bush, who had championed the legislation despite criticism from both the right and the left, will meet with lawmakers next week when he returns from Europe.
Bush, who called McConnell and two other senators from Air Force One as he flew from Poland to Italy, is optimistic the legislation will be revived, according to White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino.
"We can get this done," said Sen. Jon Kyl, a conservative Arizona Republican who was a key player in the discussions that produced the delicately balanced compromise.
He and other backers said they would reach out to other lawmakers in an effort to overcome strong opposition.
The bill, a hot-button issue even this far in advance of the November 2008 elections, was broadly criticized. Conservatives argued it would give amnesty to people who broke U.S. laws and unions said the temporary worker program would create an underclass of cheap laborers.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon expressed regret at the bill's failure.
"Without a regularization of the flow of migrants to (the United States) it is unthinkable that the American economy can recover the levels of sustained growth that it has seen in past times," Calderon said during a visit to Denmark.
Passions ran high during the two-week debate on the bill and Republicans blamed Reid for trying to move too quickly. The bill had attracted dozens of amendments, many from senators who opposed the legislation. Only a portion were considered, but it was enough to unravel the bipartisan agreement.
Republican leaders said they could have reduced the number if they had had more time.
Reid, citing other pressing priorities, pushed to get a final vote by the end of this week as he and fellow Democrats accused Republican opponents of trying amend the bill to death and delay a final vote.
Democrats said Bush needed to get more involved in corralling fellow Republicans on the bill he desperately wants as a major legislative achievement before leaving office in January 2009.
Bush will travel to the Capitol on Tuesday to have lunch with Senate Republicans.
In his weekly radio address released in advance of the usual Saturday broadcast, Bush said the compromise was the best way to fix America's broken immigration system.
"I urge Senator Reid to act quickly to bring this bill back to the Senate floor for a vote, and I urge senators from both parties to support it," Bush said.
Advocates and opponents saw a silver lining in the clouded outlook for the legislation. Craig Regelbrugge, who represents an agriculture group in favor of the comprehensive bill, said a brief cooling-off period might help calm emotions.
"Let's face it, the pot boiled over a little too much," Regelbrugge said. "The best thing to do is turn off the burner."
Sonia Ramirez of the trade union organization AFL-CIO said she hopes to see a bill more palatable to labor. Her group opposed the temporary worker program that business groups backed.