Parliamentarians rule . . . literally. The U.S. Congress employs an individual as a parliamentarian to help manage meetings and advise on proper procedure. Now the Senate parliamentarian has declared that Democrats can’t squeeze immigrant citizenship into their Build Back Better Act.
The decision by Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate’s nonpartisan (unbiased) rule interpreter, is a setback for President Joe Biden, congressional Democrats, and their allies in the pro-immigration community. MacDonough’s stance badly wounds their hopes of enacting sweeping immigration changes.
A provision is a statement within a law. It declares that something must be done before another thing can be done. Immigration provisions in the Build Back Better Act would allow several categories of immigrants to gain permanent residence and possibly citizenship. The immigration wording is included along with changes to health insurance, retirement funding, and education grants.
In a three-page memo to senators, MacDonough notes certain Senate rules. They say that provisions are not allowed in such bills if their budget effect is secondary to their overall impact.
What does that mean? MacDonough pointed out sweeping changes that Democrats want to make in immigration law. She says the language “is by any standard a broad, new immigration policy.” As such, she says the immigration policy change is the primary impact. So it does not belong in the huge $3.5 trillion budget measure.
Democrats were hoping immigration reform could go into the budget bill—which is safeguarded from GOP (Republican) filibusters. (A filibuster is a procedure that lets debate about a piece of legislation go on for an extended time. The intention of the filibuster is to delay or prevent a vote.) With filibusters in play, the immigration changes would have virtually no chance in the 50-50 Senate.
The MacDonough-rejected provisions would have opened multiyear doorways to legal permanent residence—and perhaps citizenship—for young immigrants brought illegally to the country as children. Immigrants with Temporary Protected Status who have fled countries stricken by natural disasters or extreme violence would also be included. So might farm workers and other essential workers.
Democrats and their pro-immigration allies say they will offer other approaches to MacDonough in hopes those would open a path for 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 (Democrat) says. “Senate Democrats have prepared alternate proposals and will be holding additional meetings with the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days.”
Democratic leaders will need virtually every vote in Congress from their party to approve the 10-year, $3.5 trillion bill that embodies Biden’s top domestic goals.
Republicans are already indicating they will use immigration 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 [extreme liberal] base and stand up for the rule of law, even though our border has never been less secure,” says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican). He says putting the provisions into a filibuster-protected budget measure was “inappropriate and I’m glad it failed.”
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. — Romans 13:1
(Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters as work continues on the Democrats’ massive legislation, a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s agenda, in Washington, D.C., on September 14, 2021. AP/Andrew Harnik)