As the Democrats in Congress renew their push to pass a comprehensive budget balancing measure, the Senate MP heard arguments from both parties on Friday over whether to include immigration laws in the proposed $ 3.5 trillion package.
The Democrats are hoping that the MP will provide a way to permanent residence to stay in law, which will give the Democrats a chance to achieve a long-term priority without being blocked by the filibuster.
Whether the Democrats' strategy works depends on a woman whose name rarely makes the headlines: Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate MP who interprets the rules of the Upper Chamber. MacDonough's decision remains unknown after the September 10th meetings, and she has not indicated when she will pass her sentence, which in itself could have a major impact.
If MacDonough finalizes immigration regulations, which will have to hit the federal budget “more than randomly” to achieve the cut, millions of undocumented immigrants could be given the opportunity to legally reside in the US, a necessary step on that Path to Citizenship.
According to NBC, the Democrats argued on Friday that the immigration deal was budgetary because it would require $ 139.6 billion in additional spending over the next 10 years on Medicare, Medicaid, refundable tax credits, and other federal benefits.
However, if MacDonough finds the immigration measure not relevant to the draft budget, it could undo the Democrats' plans for immigration reform. But that's not a given: while this rarely happens, the Democrats could overrule MacDonough's formal opinion with a simple Senate majority and still include immigration reform in the budget.
If they go down that path, then Vice President Kamala Harris will make the decision. As Vox's Dylan Scott pointed out in January, Harris is also President of the Senate and has ultimate authority over its proceedings.
But Scott noted, "The Vice President has not overruled a MP since 1975 when Nelson Rockefeller pushed the Senate's council to change the filibuster rules."
Democrats may also be able to fire MacDonough, as did Republicans in 2001 after then Senate majority leader Trent Lott reportedly disagreed with MP Robert Dove's decision to limit Senate Republicans to one reconciliation process per year.
In February, MP Ilhan Omar (D-MN) called for MacDonough to be replaced after speaking out against including a minimum wage increase in the Covid-19 aid package.
Abolish the filibuster.
Replace the MP.
What is a democratic majority if we cannot pass our priority bills? This is unacceptable.
– Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 26, 2021
While the Senate Democrats vowed to continue pushing for a minimum wage of $ 15, they ultimately upheld MacDonough's decision and got that provision removed from the law.
If MacDonough decides that immigration reform legislation is not relevant to the upcoming reconciliation package and the Democrats don't push the issue, it could be a death knell for the chances of immigration reform in a 50-50 Senate.
A Senate regulation from the 1980s could determine the fate of the immigration reform
The participation of the Senate MP in the budget reconciliation process goes back to the so-called Byrd rule. Named for former West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, the rule restricts what can be included in reconciliation packages.
As Scott explained earlier this year:
Byrd suggested and the Senate codified restrictions on what can happen through budget reconciliation to ensure that the process is actually used on matters affecting the federal budget. These restrictions are now colloquially known as Byrd's rule.
According to the rule, settlement invoices cannot change social security. They cannot be expected to increase the federal deficit after 10 years. They must have an impact on federal spending or income – and their impact on spending or income must be “more than incidental” to their political impact.
Although the 1974 Budget Act contains criteria for determining what is considered an alien measure, it is still open to the Chairman's interpretation whether a proposal meets these requirements.
Regarding immigration, Republicans argue that the laws put forward by the Democrats are not purely budgetary; Democrats say it's a budget issue as immigration affects things like benefits, spending, and the economy.
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the senior Republican on the Senate Justice Committee's immigration subcommittee, tweeted his criticism of the Democrats' strategy on Friday, saying they "insist on pursuing partisan bills rather than bipartisan immigration reform."
Ds always fail when it comes to immigration reform, even if they control the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives. They insist on pursuing bipartisan bills rather than bipartisan immigration reforms, starting with bills like our bipartisan Boundaries Resolution Act. https://t.co/m58RTllR6e
– Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) September 10, 2021
Despite the limits of reconciliation, the strategy has clear advantages in a polarized Senate – unlike a stand-alone immigration reform law, the budget balancing process is not subject to the filibuster, and measures can only be passed with a simple majority.
Even if MacDonough signs the immigration bill in the bill, the bigger move in the Senate still has a potentially rocky future ahead of it. Though he didn't look specifically at immigration, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), a common thorn in the side of progressive Democrats, told CNN on Sunday that he was not taking a $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation measure would support. Senator Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) has also signaled that she is opposed to this level of spending.
The draft law for the Reconciliation Act is due to be presented on Wednesday before the deadline for the September 27 vote on a separate, bipartisan infrastructure law.
On Sunday, Manchin accused his colleagues in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos of holding the infrastructure law hostage of the reconciliation package. However, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), told Stephanopoulos that both bills are urgently needed.
"I happen to think Joe Manchin is right, the physical infrastructure is terribly important," Sanders said. "But I think the needs of the people of our country, working families, children, the elderly, the poor are even more important, and we can and must do both."
In an evenly divided Senate, the Democrats would need every member of their parliamentary group to support the package in order for it to be passed, with Harris having the casting vote in her role as Senate President.
Biden has repeatedly called for a path to citizenship
If the Democrats manage to pass immigration laws as part of the reconciliation package, it will be a great achievement for the party. Biden and the Democrats in Congress previously proposed a citizenship route as a stand-alone bill, and a July court ruling illegal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, also poses the challenge .
In February 2021, shortly after taking office, Biden submitted his US citizenship bill of 2021 to Congress for review. The bill provides an eight-year process to young people who have been raised by their parents before 1st humanitarian reasons from countries like Haiti, Myanmar and Syria. Agricultural workers and other key workers would also be subject to the legislation.
The house law for the reconciliation of immigration is here! Here's one to what it says – but a BIG caveat first. This is NOT the final version.
The bill is first given a rating and then compared with the Senate version in a conference – and the parliamentarian still has to approve. pic.twitter.com/5OYAcDeJOa
– Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (@ReichlinMelnick) September 11, 2021
All in all, according to Vox's Nicole Narea, the bill offers a comprehensive plan for the approximately 10.5 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States to become citizens:
First, immigrants could get work permits and travel abroad with the confidence that they would be allowed to re-enter the US. After five years, if they pass background checks and pay taxes, they could apply for a green card. Immigrants who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and temporary protection status, as well as farm workers, can apply for green cards immediately.
The legislation also creates space for addressing issues in immigrants' home countries, such as violence and dire economic problems, that help encourage immigration from Central America to the United States.
The immigration reforms included in the Reconciliation Act could be tighter, according to Hill, with an emphasis on allowing immigrants to apply for legal permanent residence – a green card – but no direct mention of citizenship.
Still, according to the New York Times, the move would extend legal status to four categories of non-citizens: DREAMers, TPS recipients, nearly 1 million farm workers, and millions more who are considered "indispensable workers."
The protection of DREAMers is particularly urgent. Although the program has acted as a shield for many young immigrants since its inception in 2012, it has enabled them to work, complete a college education, and sometimes – depending on where they live – access to benefits such as state college tuition and state-subsidized health insurance, their future is uncertain.
Specifically, DACA is again at risk after a federal judge in Texas ruled it unconstitutional in July and froze the program's ability to accept new applicants. The Justice Department appealed the case on Friday.
With the Biden administration's DACA appeal in the deeply conservative appeals court of the U.S. Fifth Court of Appeals and hundreds of thousands of DREAMers pending, lawmakers are saying that passing immigration reform is more urgent than ever.
"If we don't move, there is a very real chance these people will be deported," Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) told the New York Times.
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