Senate Parliamentarian Rejects Immigration Reform In Reconciliation Bill

[ Posted Monday, September 20th, 2021 – 16:17 UTC ]

Last night the Senate parliamentarian released the first in a series of opinions about the Democratic efforts to draft an enormous budget reconciliation bill. She said that, in her opinion, legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants should be seen as a policy proposal, not a budget proposal. If Democrats follow her advice, they'll have to remove the path to citizenship from the reconciliation bill. This would be a major blow to immigration reform, although not entirely unexpected.

Immigration reform does impact the federal budget, but not very directly. So it was always seen as somewhat of an overreach for this bill. The fact that it was the first major agenda item to be rejected doesn't surprise me, to put this another way. Earlier this year, the parliamentarian rejected the reasoning of including a minimum wage increase in a reconciliation bill -- and that is much more directly tied to the federal budget. The dividing line is supposed to be whether any particular idea is more of a minor budgetary adjustment or a major policy change. And the parliamentarian just called the Democrats' immigration plan a "tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact."

Of course, while many in the media use the word, this is not a "ruling." The parliamentarian actually has no real power. She merely issues opinions -- advice for the majority leader to consider. In most cases, the opinions are followed. But not always. The majority party can overcome a parliamentarian's opinion with 51 votes. The opinion is not binding, in other words, merely advisory.

It's pretty doubtful Chuck Schumer will try this route for immigration reform. The other components of the reconciliation bill are seen as too important for the whole bill to get hung up on immigration. While there are Democrats out there calling on Schumer to overrule the parliamentarian, it's not even clear that all 50 Democratic senators (plus Vice President Kamala Harris) would vote to do so. Overruling the parliamentarian does happen, but it is also incredibly rare.

This is a hard blow for immigration advocates. The parliamentarian (who, as one article noted, is "a former immigration attorney") did take note of the human cost of not doing immigration reform, but she still concluded it was outside the boundaries of a reconciliation bill: "The reasons that people risk their lives to come to this country -- to escape religious and political persecution, famine, war, unspeakable violence and lack of opportunity in their home countries -- cannot be measured in federal dollars."

Democrats in the Senate do plan to try to offer alternative ideas on immigration, but they will likely be a lot more limited in scope than their initial effort. Perhaps at least a few of them will make it into the final bill. But that's about the best that can realistically be hoped for, at this point.

This was the first major opinion from the parliamentarian, but others are coming soon as well. There are provisions of the bill dealing with Labor, drug pricing, and clean energy which are also facing scrutiny. Some of the ways the bill raises revenue (various tax proposals) may also be questionable.

This is all a part of the congressional sausage-making that is normally so esoteric that it barely makes news. This time, however, the Democrats have gone the "kitchen sink" route with reconciliation, since they know this is really the last major bill Congress is going to pass before the midterm elections. So they kind of threw everything into it. Such ambitious plans are likely to get trimmed down by the parliamentarian -- something everyone was aware of from the start.

Issues that aren't included in reconciliation bills won't die -- there is still a push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, for instance -- but with today's Republicans taking an "all obstructionism all the time" stance, anything which can't make it through Congress with just Democratic votes isn't going anywhere until at least after the 2022 midterms. Possibly not until after the 2024 presidential election.

That's why this news is so important, and it's why so many ideas were tossed into the reconciliation bill in the first place. My guess is that whatever final bill emerges from the parliamentarian's scrutiny will still have enough ambitious items in it to satisfy most Democrats and most Democratic voters. Some things will be left out, but others will make it.

The ones that miss the mark will likely become fodder in the argument for filibuster reform, since if the legislative filibuster didn't exist it simply would not matter what could be called budget reconciliation and what could not. The parliamentarian's opinion wouldn't have any impact at all, if any bill could pass with 51 votes.

For now, however, the safe bet is that Chuck Schumer will not defy the parliamentarian's opinion and will remove not just the immigration reform language, but anything else that she decides is inappropriate as well.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “Senate Parliamentarian Rejects Immigration Reform In Reconciliation Bill”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    My reaction to this was like yours: the big 3.5T bill is going to get trimmed, between the parliamentarian and the holdouts led by Manchin.

    But what's left, and gets passed, will still likely be pretty big and pretty important, and pretty impressive to voters if it is promoted and sold to them correctly.

    Of course, the Democratic Party is not typically very good at selling its policies to middle-of-the-road voters. So there's that, unfortunately.

  2. [2] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Sorry, off topic, but timely.

    How totally fitting, how utterly appropriate, is it that our last effort prior to leaving Afghanistan after 20 yrs of continuous miscalculation, misjudgment and miscomprehension, was a world-class monumental phuque-up!!

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Elizabeth, what say ye about Trudeau winning reelection? Good? Bad?

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    How totally fitting, indeed! Was thinking the exact same thing ...

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Well, the Conservative Party of Canada scares me, despite the nice face O'Toole tried to put on it. His party didn't like that particular strategy one bit, either. O'Toole's "concession" speech was one big whine about how he believes Trudeau wants to call another election in 18 months and that the Conservative party will be ready for it. LOL

    So, in my riding, Kitchener Centre, the incumbent Liberal MP Raj Saini, was "disavowed" by the Liberal Party of Canada in the wake of allegations against him of inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature. It was too late to take him off the ballot so if he had won he would have had to sit in the House of Commons as an independent member.

    I don't know him well enough to comment on the veracity of complaints against him. Hell, I don't even know what they are.

    So, I took it upon myself to take the opportunity and do something I've never done and won't ever do again - vote for a party and candidate that has zero chance of ever accomplishing anything of substance ...

    I voted for the Green Party candidate in my riding!!! Yeah, I did ... and, guess what? He won! I shit you not! And, by a veritable landslide, too. Heh.

    Guess I'll pay some attention to how he gets along. :)

    The result of this election proves how boring we are ... pretty much the same House of Commons membership as before the election.

    I'm very happy that Justin Trudeau is still the prime minister. Which is a somewhat sad commentary on the choices we had. Ahem

    I am of the mind that we won't be enduring another federal election for a few years. Actually, enduring is the wrong word as our election campaigns last only about 30 days. Seriously! Despite what O'Toole says. :)

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Sorry, guess I should have mentioned that Erin O'Toole is the current leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. For how long, who knows ...

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