The Senate parliamentarian has blocked Democrats from including a plan to provide legal status to as many as 8 million undocumented immigrants as part of legislation encompassing President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.
Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough issued an opinion Sunday that the broad and long-stalled immigration overhaul doesn’t qualify for inclusion in a massive tax and spending plan under the Senate rules that Democrats are using to bypass a Republican filibuster.
The parliamentarian said the proposal by Democrats “is a policy change that substantially outweighs the budgetary impact of that change.”
The Senate Democrats’ plan would have granted status to undocumented immigrants including young “Dreamers,” migrant farmworkers, some immigrants deemed “essential workers” and others with temporary protected status.
The parliamentarian’s decision means the immigration plan would require 60 votes rather than the simple majority allowed for the fast-track procedure known as reconciliation. The Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break ties, and the broad GOP opposition to the immigration overhaul would doom it.
Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said Democrats could craft a “Plan B” immigration overhaul. But another attempt could fail or, at the very least, make it even tougher for Democratic leaders to move ahead with any speed on the larger package.
The Democrats’ immigration plan has broad support in both chambers, and leaving it out of the will cause howls of protests from progressives whose plans for a much more sizable economic plan have already fallen by the wayside.
In making their case to the parliamentarian, Democrats argued unsuccessfully that immigration should qualify for filibuster protection because their proposal has a significant budgetary impact. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the 8 million immigrants once they get legal status would qualify for nearly $140 billion dollars in federal means-tested benefits, the Senate Democratic aides said. That includes Obamacare, Medicaid, refundable tax credits, and supplemental security income.
In 2005, the parliamentarian accepted a similar argument in allowing an immigration provision to move ahead. MacDonough said that the case did not set a precedent.
MacDonough is the Senate’s adviser on the interpretation of rules and procedures. As Democrats continue their work on the economic package, Republicans are likely to make other challenges before them in other areas including climate change.