WASHINGTON — Whether Dreamers and other immigrants living in the U.S. illegally get a path to citizenship at the moment is basically the decision of one unelected person — the Senate parliamentarian.
In a big blow, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled Sunday night legalization for Dreamers, Temporary Protective Status holders and farm and essential workers cannot be included in a Democratic-authored massive $3.5 trillion budget bill.
To get around the usual 60 votes needed for passage, Democrats intend to use a procedure called “reconciliation” to push through the $3.5 trillion bill with only 50 votes. Democrats must first win the approval of the parliamentarian before they muscle it through the 50-50 Senate.
The “catch” in this “reconciliation” tactic is that every provision in the measure has to be budget related. The parliamentarian is the umpire who decides if a provision is a valid budget matter.
Democrats have few options. There are not 10 Republicans willing to vote with the Democrats on this $3.5 trillion package.
Senate Democrats are going to revise the legislation and try again to get the parliamentarian to approve.
If the alternative the Democrats devise does not pass muster with MacDonough, this key Democratic and Biden administration immigration initiative may once again be dead in the water.
At issue here is the work-around the Democrats seek to let them pass this budget bill — with the immigration provisions — with only 50 votes.
Senate Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said they are going to revise some of the immigration language in the measure to try to overcome MacDonough’s legal objections.
Durbin is the Senate Judiciary Committee chair and the founder of the crusade to give legal status to Dreamers, people who came to the U.S. illegally as youths through no fault of their own.
“We are deeply disappointed in the Parliamentarian’s decision, but the fight for immigration reform will continue. Senate Democrats have prepared an alternative proposal for the Parliamentarian’s consideration in the coming days,” Durbin said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. in a floor speech on Monday said, “Last night’s ruling was extremely disappointing. It saddened me, it frustrated me. It angered me. But make no mistake: the fight continues.
“Senate Democrats have prepared alternate proposals and will be holding additional meetings with the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days.”
Schumer has been working with Durbin and four other senators — Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., to “find the best option available to provide immigrants with the chance at one day obtaining lawful residence here in America.”
A standalone immigration plan to cover Dreamers and others cannot gain the votes to pass the Senate at this time. Durbin has led multiple efforts over years to find 60 votes from Democrats and Republicans to pass an immigration bill. Tucking the immigration provisions in the $3.5 trillion budget plan is the best hope Democrats and the Biden White House have for passage.
• Democrats wanted to insert the immigration provisions in the $3.5 trillion budget package, which also includes a vast number of social safety net, health care and climate provisions.
• With 60 votes, legislation is immune to a deadly filibuster.
Congress sets budget goals for each fiscal year. But sometimes circumstances change. The reconciliation process exists to allow Congress to “reconcile” the existing budget law with new priorities. The key, though, is the changes have to be budget-related.
The parliamentarian found the immigration provisions were not substantially budget-related and violated Senate rules.
• MacDonough, who is nonpartisan, wrote in a memo to senators that allowing the measure in the $3.5 trillion bill “is a policy change that substantially outweighs the budgetary impact of that change.”
“We think there is significant budgetary impact both in the short run and in the long run,” said Douglas Rivlin, director of communications for America’s Voice, the immigration group that has long been pushing to legalize the status of Dreamers and others.
Revising the immigration provisions so that the budget case persuades MacDonough to allow it in the bill is the challenge Senate Democrats face in crafting the new alternative.
A big question now is whether Democrats in the Senate will try to overrule the parliamentarian if need be.
That’s what Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., is suggesting. He said in a statement, “The fight is far from over. We are prepared for this, we have a plan, and we remain optimistic. The parliamentarian ruled against one approach but Senate Democrats have the final say.”