Since last Thursday, Dec. 16, Elizabeth MacDonough, the senate parliamentarian, has become the grinch that stole Christmas to many who were hoping immigration reform, as included in the Democratic party-line Build Back Better social spending bill, would finally be pushed through after passing the House.
A lot of advocates, progressives and even lawmakers on the left, are hopping mad and have been insisting on social media since last Thursday, that the parliamentarian can be overruled.
After all, many say, Democrats control all three houses so what’s the problem given that the parliamentarian’s unelected role is generally advisory? Many even have gone back in history to point to the rare occasion in 1975, when Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, as president of the senate, overruled the parliamentarian.
Most want a repeat of that in 2021, and are pushing Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Chuck Schumer to flex their collective muscles and stop letting Joe Manchin and Senate Republicans keep holding up immigration reform.
But while, as a radical myself, I’d like to push that message, the reality is that it’s not all cut and dry.
The truth is the parliamentarian is simply doing her job and no amount of bashing or slamming her for formerly working for the former INS, is going to make this recommendation come back differently.
If anyone should face wrath it is Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats and staffers for not following the rules and thinking the third time would be the charm. If it was rejected the first and second times on those same grounds what makes them think the third time would cause the rules to bend to their will?
Senate procedures are very complicated. According to experts, including the Congressional Research Service, a little-known rule named the Byrd rule, named after a long-time senator from West Virginia, considers material considered “extraneous” to the purpose of a reconciliation bill.
Generally translated––it means policies must be budget-related or they cannot be included. According to an executive summary released by the House Committee on the Budget, the Byrd rule prohibits “extraneous” measures, defined as the following:
- Measures with no budgetary effect (i.e., no change in outlays or revenues).
- Measures that worsen the deficit when a committee has not achieved its reconciliation target.
- Measures outside the jurisdiction of the committee that submitted the title or provision.
- Measures that produce a budgetary effect that is merely incidental to the non-budgetary policy change.
- Measures that increase deficits for any fiscal year outside the reconciliation window; and measures that recommend changes in Social Security.
MacDonough referenced the ‘merely incidental’ clause as a main factor in the immigration provision being nixed.
“The policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it,” she wrote. “And it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation.”
So, what’s next? Democrats haven’t quite landed on a strategy yet on how to get immigration legislation into the massive climate and social spending package. But they are leaving the door open to either trying to override MacDonough’s guidance or leapfrogging her on to the Senate floor altogether.
There they will need 60 votes, and with Joe Manchin already saying he will not be voting for the bill or that measure, it’s hardly likely Schumer has the votes to pull this off considering the thin line in the Senate.
Which means that for another Christmas, immigrants will get coal in their stocking. So much for party change. What needs to change is Manchin getting kicked out of the Democratic Party much like Republicans got rid of Liz Cheney. This Christmas, my wish is Democrats would finally grow some cojones.
Wishful thinking, I know. But anyway, let’s keep hope alive. Merry, Merry, Christmas.
The writer is publisher of NewsAmericasNow