By Joseph Lord
Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough has struck another blow to Democrats’ ambitions to provide millions of illegal aliens amnesty in the Build Back Better budget bill.
Because Democrats are using the complicated and rule-laden reconciliation process, the scope of the legislation is far more constrained than a normal piece of legislation.
The reconciliation process, first formulated in the 1970s in response to the revelations of the Watergate Scandal, allows certain types of budget bills to go through the Senate without facing the 60-vote filibuster. Because Republicans would certainly filibuster this budget bill, Democrats have had no choice but to use the process.
But given its extreme power relative to normal Senate bills, its provisions are subject to the approval or disapproval of the parliamentarian, the Senate’s nonpartisan referee. While the reconciliation process is being used, all provisions must satisfy the current parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, as being within the original budget-related scope of the process.
Specifically, Democrats’ budget bill is subject to the “Byrd rule,” named after the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), which says that all provisions in reconciliation must have a “more than merely incidental effect” on federal spending and revenue; The rule was first proposed and passed to weaken the process, which had increasingly started being used for non-budget related provisions.
Since they began work on the budget bill, Democrats have made clear that they have the intention of trying to put comprehensive immigration reform into the bill.
The first two immigration plans Democrats proposed, which could have given millions of illegal aliens amnesty for entering the country against federal law, were rejected by MacDonough under the Byrd rule.
Now, MacDonough has dealt another blow to Democrats, rejecting their third, significantly-weaker immigration plan.
This third plan, called “plan C” by Democratic proponents, would have given 6–7 million illegal aliens five-year work and travel permits, essentially a form of temporary amnesty.
Democratic supporters of the plan like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have for weeks argued for the provision with the parliamentarian, but ultimately Democrats were unable to sway the former immigration attorney turned-parliamentarian.
Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) released a joint statement after the parliamentarian made this most recent decision.
“We strongly disagree with the Senate parliamentarian’s interpretation of our immigration proposal, and we will pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act,” they vowed.
But when Durbin, one of the strongest supporters of immigration reform in the budget, was asked whether Democrats had a “plan D” in the wake of this decision, he responded, “Not at this point.”
Outside of Capitol Hill, the decision also ruffled feathers with some private immigration organizations.
Mike Fernandez, co-chair of the American Business Immigration Coalition, advocates for unchecked immigration in order to “grow jobs, strengthen our economy, and benefit all American families.” The organization is run by several major business moguls, whose bottom line grows with the increased labor supply furnished by immigration.
“It’s time for Senate leaders to retake control of the legislative process,” Fernandez said, calling on Senate Democrats to ignore the parliamentarian’s ruling. “The Senate has received some bad advice that needs to be disregarded.”
Others were far happier with the decision.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonpartisan group that emphasizes the economic and social dangers of unchecked immigration, applauded the parliamentarian.
“[FAIR] applauds Ms. MacDonough for her integrity and ensuring that longstanding rules of the Senate were not subverted to achieve partisan political ends,” wrote Matthew Tragessor, FAIR’s communications manager.
“Sadly, Senate Democrats, who hold the majority in that body solely because Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote, have made repeated attempts to use budget reconciliation to make an end run around normal legislative procedures,” FAIR’s press release continued. “We hope that this, her third rejection of these tactics, will finally put an end to their efforts to abuse the process in order to reward illegal aliens.”
Some Democrats, including progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), have argued that the Senate should use the so-called “nuclear option,” a rarely-used process that allows the majority party to change Senate rules through a simple majority vote, to override the parliamentarian.
But this plan, which will certainly see renewed calls in the wake of MacDonough’s decision, may not fly with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), who has expressed disagreement with changing Senate rules even for more pressing issues like the debt ceiling. And the maverick West Virginian has already explicitly rejected overriding the parliamentarian’s decisions.
With mounting troubles for the budget bill coming from Manchin and Democrats having no plan as yet for a new immigration plan, it is unclear what the future holds for Democrats’ ambitions to radically reform America’s immigration system under the partisan reconciliation process.
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