The Senate has advanced historic immigration legislation across the last procedural test and stands on the brink of final passage of the bill offering the prize of U.S. citizenship to millions.
The vote on final passage was set for 4 p.m. ET Thursday, CBS News has learned. The bill, a top priority for President Obama, would also pour billions into border security.
The 68-32 tally on the final procedural vote was well above the 60 votes required and indicates the bill commands the majority needed to pass the Senate and go to the House.
"It's landmark legislation that will secure our borders and help 11 million people get right with the law," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor Thursday ahead of the votes.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., countered that the bill doesn't ensure true border security since people here illegally can obtain a provisional legal status under the legislation before any security goals are accomplished. "This bill may pass the Senate today, but not with my vote. And in its current form, it won't become law," McConnell said.
Prospects in the House are not so bright because many House conservatives oppose the path to citizenship for people here illegally. That provision is at the heart of the Senate bill.
"The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday. "We're going to do our own bill through regular order and it will be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people."
Any bill, he added, to pass the House will "have to be a bill that has support of majority of our members."
Supporters posted 67 votes or more on each of three Senate procedural tests Wednesday. More than a dozen Republicans sided with Democrats on each, ensuring bipartisan support that the bill's backers hope will change minds in the House.
The House Judiciary Committee is in the midst of a piece-by-piece effort, turning its attention Thursday to a bill on high-skilled workers.
On Wednesday the committee signed off on legislation establishing a system to require all employers to check their workers' legal status on a faster timeframe than the Senate bill contemplates. And last week it approved two other measures, one establishing a new agricultural guest worker program and a second making illegal presence in the country a federal crime, instead of a civil offense as it is now.
None of the bills weighed by the Judiciary Committee contemplate a path to citizenship or even legalization for the millions already here.
At its core, the legislation in the Senate includes numerous steps to prevent future illegal immigration, while at the same time it offers a chance at citizenship to the 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully.
It provides for 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, requires the completion of 700 miles of fencing and requires an array of high-tech devices to be deployed to secure the border with Mexico. Those security changes would be accomplished over a decade and would have to be in place before anyone in provisional legal status could obtain a permanent resident green card.
Businesses would be required to check on the legal status of prospective employees. Other provisions would expand the number of visas for highly skilled workers relied upon by the technology industry. A separate program would be established for lower-skilled workers, and farm workers would be admitted under a temporary program.
The basic legislation was drafted by four Democrats and four Republicans who met privately for months to produce a rare bipartisan compromise in a polarized Senate. They fended off unwanted changes in the Senate Judiciary Committee and then were involved in negotiations with Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee on a package of tougher border security provisions that swelled support among Republicans.