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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 
budgetary impact."

   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 

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