Democrats were dealt a heavy blow over the weekend after the U.S. Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled that lawmakers could not include pathways to legal citizenship for noncitizens living in the country within the proposed $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package.
The parliamentarian acts as an arbiter of the rules of the Senate. Often compared to a “referee” by the media, the person in the role can determine whether or not certain aspects of reconciliation bills adhere to the rules for those pieces of legislation.
This is the second instance in 2021 where MacDonough has ruled that Democrats cannot include an important legislative policy goal within a reconciliation package they have proposed. Earlier this year, MacDonough said that a minimum wage increase couldn’t be included in a bill related to coronavirus economic relief.
On Sunday, MacDonough made a similar ruling against changes to immigration law that Democrats were proposing, including, among other items, allowing Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status holders to receive green cards.
“Changing the law to clear the way to [legal permanent residence] status is tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact,” the parliamentarian said.
A parliamentarian’s opinion is usually respected, but the presiding officer of the Senate — in this case, Vice President Kamala Harris — can overturn their decision if they wish to do so. Some Democrats are calling on Harris and other Democratic leaders in the Senate, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), to do just that.
“This ruling by the parliamentarian is only a recommendation. @SenSchumer and the @WhiteHouse can and should ignore it,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) wrote in a tweet.
Jose Lopez, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, also called on lawmakers to press forward and find a way to include immigration reform within the $3.5 trillion spending package.
“Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration have committed to bringing home legalization for our neighbors and loved ones in this budget reconciliation package, and we will hold them to their word,” Lopez said in a statement.
But Democratic leaders, while exploring other options to address the ruling from MacDonough, have hinted that they are not likely to directly confront the parliamentarian’s decision, and that they will ultimately choose to comply.
“Senate Democrats have prepared an alternative proposal for the Parliamentarian’s consideration in the coming days,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), the second-ranking Democrat in the upper chamber.
“The Parliamentarian’s ruling is deeply disappointing but we fully expect our partners in the Senate to come back with alternative immigration-related proposals for the Parliamentarian to consider,” the White House also said in a statement given to Axios.
A reconciliation bill allows legislative priorities to be considered without the need to have a filibuster-proof supermajority within the Senate — just a simple majority of Senators have to support the bill for it to pass. If Democrats’ other considerations include proposals to pass immigration reform through separate bills, the likelihood of them being blocked by Republicans through a filibuster increases significantly.