Parliamentarian Deals Blow to Dems 09/20 06:09
Democrats can't use their $3.5 trillion package bolstering social and
climate programs for their plan to give millions of immigrants a chance to
become citizens, the Senate's parliamentarian said, a crushing blow to what was
the party's clearest pathway in years to attaining that long-sought goal.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats can't use their $3.5 trillion package
bolstering social and climate programs for their plan to give millions of
immigrants a chance to become citizens, the Senate's parliamentarian said, a
crushing blow to what was the party's clearest pathway in years to attaining
that long-sought goal.
The decision by Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate's nonpartisan interpreter
of its often enigmatic rules, is a damaging and disheartening setback for
President Joe Biden, congressional Democrats and their allies in the
pro-immigration and progressive communities. Though they said they'd offer her
fresh alternatives, MacDonough's stance badly wounds their hopes of
unilaterally enacting -- over Republican opposition -- changes letting several
categories of immigrants gain permanent residence and possibly citizenship.
The parliamentarian opinion that emerged Sunday is crucial because it means
the immigration provisions could not be included in an immense $3.5 trillion
measure that's been shielded from GOP filibusters. Left vulnerable to those
bill-killing delays, which require 60 Senate votes to defuse, the immigration
language has virtually no chance in the 50-50 Senate.
In a three-page memo to senators obtained by The Associated Press,
MacDonough noted that under Senate rules, provisions are not allowed in such
bills if their budget effect is "merely incidental" to their overall policy
Citing sweeping changes that Democrats would make in immigrants' lives,
MacDonough, a one-time immigration attorney, said the language "is by any
standard a broad, new immigration policy."
The rejected provisions would open multiyear doorways to legal permanent
residence -- and perhaps citizenship -- for young immigrants brought illegally
to the country as children, often called "Dreamers." Also included would be
immigrants with Temporary Protected Status who've fled countries stricken by
natural disasters or extreme violence; essential workers and farm workers.
Estimates vary because many people can be in more than one category, but the
nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says 8 million people would be helped
by the Democratic effort, MacDonough said. Biden had originally proposed a
broader drive that would have affected 11 million immigrants.
Democrats and their pro-immigration allies have said they will offer
alternative approaches to MacDonough that would open a doorway to permanent
status to at least some immigrants.
"We are deeply disappointed in this decision but the fight to provide lawful
status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues," Senate Majority
Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a written statement. "Senate Democrats
have prepared alternate proposals and will be holding additional meetings with
the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days."
"A path to permanent residency and citizenship has a significant budgetary
impact, great bipartisan support, and above all it is critical to America's
recovery," said Kerri Talbot, deputy director of the Immigration Hub, a group
of pro-immigration strategists. She said work would continue "to ensure that
millions of undocumented immigrants can have lasting protections."
The parliamentarian's ruling was riling progressives at a time when
Democratic leaders will need virtually every vote in Congress from their party
to approve a 10-year, $3.5 trillion bill that embodies Biden's top domestic
It also comes with Republicans already signaling that they will use
immigration, linking it to some voters' fears of crime, as a top issue in next
year's campaigns for control of the House and Senate. The issue has gained
attention in a year when huge numbers of immigrants have been encountered
trying to cross the Southwest border.
"Democratic leaders refused to resist their progressive base and stand up
for the rule of law, even though our border has never been less secure," said
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He said putting the provisions
into filibuster-protected budget measure was "inappropriate and I'm glad it
In fact, both parties have stretched the use of the special budget
protections over the years. Democrats used them to enact President Barack
Obama's 2010 health care law, and Republicans used them during their failed
2017 drive to repeal that statute.
"It would have led to an increased run on the border -- beyond the chaos we
already have there today," said the Senate Budget Committee's top Republican,
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
One alternative advocates have said they're exploring would be to update a
"registry" date that allows some immigrants in the U.S. by that time to become
permanent residents if they meet certain conditions. But it was unclear if they
would pursue that option or how the parliamentarian would rule.
White House spokesperson Vedant Patel called the parliamentarian's decision
disappointing but said senators would offer new immigration ideas.
MacDonough cited a CBO estimate that Democrats' proposals would increase
federal deficits by $140 billion over the coming decade. That is largely
because of federal benefits the immigrants would qualify for.
But that fiscal impact, wrote MacDonough, was overshadowed by improvements
the Democratic effort would make for immigrants' lives.
"Many undocumented persons live and work in the shadows of our society out
of fear of deportation," she said. Permanent legal status would grant them
"freedom to work, freedom to travel, freedom to live openly in our society in
any state in the nation, and to reunite with their families and it would make
them eligible, in time, to apply for citizenship -- things for which there is
no federal fiscal equivalent."
That, she wrote, "is tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its
Democrats and a handful of GOP allies have made halting progress during the
past two decades toward legislation that would help millions of immigrants gain
permanent legal status in the U.S. Ultimately, they've been thwarted each time
by broad Republican opposition.
The House has approved separate bills this year achieving much of that, but
the measures have gone nowhere in the Senate because of Republican filibusters.
The overall $3.5 trillion bill would boost spending for social safety net,
environment and other programs and largely finance the initiatives with tax
increases on the rich and corporations.
Progressive and moderate Democrats are battling over the measure's price tag
and details. Party leaders can't lose any Democratic votes in the 50-50 Senate
and can lose no more than three in the House.
MacDonough was appointed in 2012 when Democrats controlled the chamber and
is respected as an even-handed arbiter of Senate rules.
Earlier this year, one of her rulings forced Democrats to remove a minimum
wage increase from a COVID-19 relief bill, killing another top progressive