Democrats maneuver behind the scenes to secure amnesty provisions in Biden’s $3.5T spending bill
Top aides to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, have privately presented arguments to Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s parliamentarian, as to why legalizing illegal immigrants is a valid exercise of what’s known in Washington as “budget reconciliation.”
The process allows measures that deal with spending, revenue and the federal debt limit to avoid the Senate‘s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass via a simple majority.
Senate Democrats argue that legalizing 8 million migrants would make them automatically eligible for federal benefits, which would deeply impact the federal budget. This is one of the main tests to see if policies can be incorporated into the reconciliation process.
“A path to citizenship is compatible and reconciled,” stated a senior Democratic aide who asked anonymity to talk about the behind-the scenes maneuvering. “The act of adding people, many of whom already pay taxes, to the federal rolls will have an immediate and direct impact on the budget.”
An immigration lawyer by training, Ms. MacDonough has served as the Senate‘s parliamentarian since 2012. As the parliamentarian, she is tasked with interpreting whether legislative actions are permissible under the Senate‘s long-standing rules and precedents.
When it comes to reconciliation the parliamentarian holds significant power due to the complex and vague provisions that govern the practice, also known as the Byrd Rule. The rule, named after Robert C. Byrd, former Majority leader from West Virginia prohibits “extraneous material” from being included in reconciliation. This bans changes to Social Security and policies that have no effect on revenue or expenditure, as well as any actions that could increase the deficit beyond the budget window.
Ms. MacDonough used the criteria earlier this year to block Democrats from including an increase in the federal minimum wage within reconciliation.
Senate Democrats are pushing for a different outcome on immigration, and they say there’s a precedent.
A 2005 parliamentarian allowed Republicans to include an immigrant provision in that year’s reconciliation bill. Although the measure only dealt with unutilized green card quotas, Democrats want to use that precedent.
“Obviously, we have to meet reconciliation standards,” stated the Democratic aide. “But that’s how you win procedural battles: You find small openings in the rules and push to expand them to meet your goals.”
Senate Democrats have yet to unveil their immigration proposal, but House Democrats have revealed theirs. It proposes a path to citizenship for approximately 8 million illegal immigrants, who are either DACA-eligible or have temporary protected status.
This proposal was discussed Monday by the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans offered amendments to bar from amnesty any illegal immigrants who haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine or those who have gun crime misdemeanors. The panel’s Democrats rejected each attempt.
Rep. Mike Johnson (La. Republican) proposed banning illegal immigrants who have been convicted of drunken driving. He proposed to ban those with at least two DUIs. This was also defeated.
He came back with an amendment barring those with 10 DUI convictions. This was also rejected by Democrats who claimed that the bill already prohibited anyone with three misdemeanors and one serious felony.
Immigrant rights advocates insist that Democrats must fulfill their promises after decades of making them.
We have repeatedly argued for broad permanent residency, decade after decade. Angelica Salas, executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, stated that they have proven their loyalty, worth, and commitment to this country. “After 35 years of obstruction, the other side no longer has any credible excuses to keep legalization from us.”
Experts on the left and right say the final determination of whether amnesty can be used in reconciliation is whether illegal immigrants pose a “net benefit or net drain” on the federal budget.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis in 2007 determined that legalization would increase the deficit by “several hundred million dollars annually.”
A recent Center for Immigration Studies report indicates that 8 million illegal immigrants would add more than $1 trillion to Social Security and Medicare, which would violate the rule that the budget window should not be extended beyond that amount.
“It seems that these long-term costs could impact whether the reconciliation bill meets the requirement of not increasing deficits after 10-years,” wrote Jason Richwine, a resident scholar at the center.
Democrats are willing to take this risk. They claim comprehensive immigration reform in the evenly divided Senate . is impossible.
We prefer a bipartisan deal, even if that’s not all we want to see,” stated Sen. Robert Menendez (New Jersey Democrat). “But in the absence thereof, those of us who believe and support immigration reform feel that it is necessary to pursue this option and determine if it is viable
Republicans claim that Democrats have refused compromise.
” Only because Democrats refuses to work with Republicans in a bipartisan bill. [the] The fate of citizenship for Dreamers’ currently rests at the Senate Parliamentarian,” stated Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.
Even if Democrats win Ms. MacDonough‘s approval for the procedural questions, they’ll still have a hard time maintaining unity in their ranks over the policy, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a law professor and immigration scholar at Cornell University.
“To succeed, Democrats need to thread a very thick Immigration string through a small legislative needle,” he stated.
HTML3_Stephen Dinan contributed this report.