The Senate parliamentarian on Thursday rejected the most recent push from Democrats to include immigration reform in their party-line social spending bill, leaving party leaders scrambling for an alternative.
The House-passed social spending bill included a provision that would extend work permits and provide temporary protection from deportation for certain undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before January 2011. But in her ruling, the parliamentarian indicated it did not comply with the chamber's rules.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters that the decision was "disappointing" and said it was not clear what plan D was "at this point." He added that the parliamentarian used the "same reasoning" as she had with previous rulings and said Democrats are "considering what options remain."
In her ruling, the parliamentarian wrote that the provision would create a new class of about 6.5 million eligible individuals, "nearly the same number of people as the previous two plans." The parliamentarian noted that "these are substantial policy changes with lasting effects just like those we previously considered and outweigh the budgetary impact."
The House proposal came after the Senate parliamentarian previously ruled that Democrats couldn’t include a pathway to legal status in their social spending bill. She also rejected a second Democratic proposal to change the date on a decades-old registry law to provide more undocumented immigrants a path to legal status.
In a statement following the ruling, Durbin, along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), said they "strongly disagreed" with the parliamentarian's decision and vowed "to pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship" in the social spending bill.
With bipartisan immigration reform talks stalled, Democrats widely viewed the social spending bill as their best chance to enact some type of immigration reform. But the latest rejection of their efforts leaves the party with few, if any, viable alternatives. Democrats are using the so-called reconciliation process to pass the social spending bill, which allows them to evade a GOP filibuster but forces them to abide by a set of budgetary rules.
Thursday's decision is all but guaranteed to renew calls from advocates and some House members to ignore the parliamentarian's advice, which Senate Democrats likely do not have the votes for.
In a joint statement Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) and Lou Correa (D-Calif) said "the Senate can — and must — reinstate a pathway to citizenship in the [social spending bill], even if that means disregarding the Senate Parliamentarian and bringing that vote to the Senate floor."
Senate Republicans celebrated the decision. In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said "the parliamentarian’s ruling is just an affirmation of the obvious." He added that "trying to shoehorn radical immigration policy provisions into reconciliation has always been about avoiding bipartisan negotiation and compromise."
The parliamentarian's decision is the latest setback in a tough week in the Senate for the social spending bill and President Joe Biden's agenda. Biden acknowledged in a statement Thursday evening that the social spending bill would have to wait until next year, given the ongoing negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).