Senate Parliamentarian shoots down another amnesty pitch

(AP Photo/Astrid Galvan)

When the Democrats originally proposed trying to jam a total amnesty for illegal aliens into the reconciliation bill, the Senate Parliamentarian threw cold water all over the idea quickly. Last week, we learned that they were coming back with a “Plan B” for putting a nearly identical measure into the bill. (There are a lot of “Plan Bs” running around in Congress this month, aren’t there?) The new scheme would have changed an existing rule allowing illegal aliens in the country to apply for permanent residency status after being in America for a significant number of years without getting into any more trouble. The proposal was to change the amount of time they would need to be here to as little as nine months. Well, it’s time to go back to the drawing board, folks. The Parliamentarian shot that one down as well. (The Hill)

The Senate parliamentarian has nixed Democrats’ back-up plan for getting immigration reform into a sweeping spending bill, handing them a second setback.

Democrats had pitched parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough on legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants by making a change to the date for when undocumented immigrants within the United States can apply to adjust their legal status.

But MacDonough told Democrats that the option was a non-starter, according to a copy of the guidance obtained by The Hill. Democrats are pursuing other back-up plans with the Senate referee, according to a source familiar with Democrats’ strategy.

As I wrote when they first pitched this idea, Plan B was more of a technical change, at least on paper. Rather than creating new law, they sought to modify the existing law. It seemed possible that Ms. MacDonough might have been persuaded by that approach, even though it still would have radically altered the process and essentially nullified the intent of the original rule.

But the Parliamentarian came back with essentially the same answer that she gave when Plan A was presented to her. She described the proposal as a “weighty policy change.” That seems to be a fairly clear signal that she will be viewing any such sweeping revamp of our immigration laws in terms of the real-world impact they will have and the funds being allocated as “incidental” rather than any sort of substantive appropriations measure.

After the ruling, even Dick Durban (one of the masterminds behind this plan) was forced to admit that while he was “disappointed,” the ruling left his party “with limited options.”

If Mitch McConnel and the Senate Republicans are on the ball, they should be seeing this latest ruling as an opportunity to push this door even further open. There are far too many things in that massive spending boondoggle that massively exceed the scope of what the reconciliation process is supposed to cover. That process exists so that the two parties can get major appropriations bills to the President’s desk when the two chambers agree in broad strokes on the measures requiring funding but can’t agree on the actual amounts of money to be allocated. Huge new social programs, climate change regulations, and the other social agenda maneuvers found in this bill all represent “weighty policy changes” and many of them have only “incidental spending” associated with them.

The Democrats have proudly described this “Build Back Better” agenda detailed in the bill as the most fundamental shift in social services and the safety net since Roosevelt’s New Deal. Now they suddenly want to pretend that it’s just business as usual and some additional spending to fund their priorities. The Senate Parliamentarian obviously isn’t buying it and Mitch McConnell shouldn’t let them get away with the rest of those items using this sort of trickery. If Democrats want to institute these sorts of sweeping changes, let them make better arguments and win enough races to pass their agenda through the normal rules of order.