Conservatives generally don’t like unelected bureaucrats who hold power in Washington, D.C. In the case of Elizabeth MacDonough, they might not mind so much.
MacDonough is the Senate parliamentarian, the nonpartisan official who calls balls and strikes when it comes to what flies under the upper chamber’s rules. On Sunday, she ruled that one of the Democrats’ major pitches — including sweeping amnesty for illegal immigrants and other immigration reform proposals under the massive $3.5 trillion budget they want to try to ram through — is way outside.
According to The New York Times, MacDonough said the “policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation.”
For something to fit into a reconciliation bill, any policy impacts must be secondary effects of a primary budgetary impact. That’s in the Senate’s Byrd Rule, which The Hill notes says “that the provision in question must produce changes in outlays or revenues that are not merely incidental to its nonbudgetary impact.”
Democrats were frustrated with the decision — which, unless they decide to scuttle the parliamentarian’s ruling or eliminate the filibuster, means immigration won’t be on the docket anytime soon.
“We are deeply disappointed in this decision but the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, said in a statement. “The American people understand that fixing our broken immigration system is a moral and economic imperative.”
He added that he’d be meeting personally with the parliamentarian to see if something can’t be worked out.
At least Schumer accepted MacDonough’s decision for the most part. Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, among others, urged Schumer to ignore the Senate parliamentarian and just do what he wants.
“This ruling by the parliamentarian, is only a recommendation. @SenSchumer and the @WhiteHouse can and should ignore it,” Omar tweeted Sunday night.
“We can’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to do the right thing.”
We can’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to do the right thing. https://t.co/r1T7T7uQIP
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) September 20, 2021
It’s always the right thing when norms can be ignored to get one’s own way — particularly when that way involves legalizing as many illegal immigrants as possible in as little time as necessary.
There’s also the fact that, as the Constitution Center notes, the Senate parliamentarian serves at the pleasure of the Senate majority leader — which, in this case, is Chuck Schumer. That said, such a blatant power play would be nearly unprecedented and would open the Democrats to reprisals if and when they lose the Senate.
Schumer instead said he was going to try to find a way to get something through without running into the ire of MacDonough.
“Senate Democrats have prepared alternate proposals and will be holding additional meetings with the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days,” the majority leader said.
It’s not like we couldn’t have seen this coming, especially given McDonough’s previous rulings that stifled Democrat attempts to enact their legislative agenda via reconciliation.
In February, when the Democrats tried to sneak a federal $15 minimum wage into their first major spending bill under President Joe Biden, MacDonough got in their way, saying it wouldn’t be able to make the cut in a bill passed through reconciliation.
Back then, again, the left was “disappointed” in MacDonough. This time, it was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ turn to express his “[insert adjective here] disappointment” that she didn’t see it their way.
“I was extremely disappointed by the decision of the parliamentarian who ruled that the minimum wage provision was inconsistent with the Byrd Rule and the reconciliation process,” Sanders said.
“But even more importantly, I regard it as absurd that the parliamentarian, a Senate staffer elected by no one, can prevent a wage increase for 32 million workers,” he said.
Wait, unelected appointees shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions that affect millions of Americans? This is indeed news, at least coming from someone who caucuses with the Democrats. It almost sounds like he’s about to call MacDonough a member of the deep state.
And then there was her role in the Obamacare debate in 2017. As The Wall Street Journal noted, she ruled against Senate Republicans when they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in a reconciliation bill four years ago. However, she allowed them to leave the tax for the individual mandate at $0, effectively rendering it moot for years.
The question, then, is whether the Democrats can manage something similar on immigration. If they can’t, Elizabeth MacDonough will remain an incredibly important person — and perhaps the biggest impediment to the Democrats’ agenda in the upper chamber for a long time to come.
Who would have ever thought there would be an unelected government official the left could loathe so much?
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