• August 4, 2021

Exclusive: The parliamentarian isn’t in charge, you are

 Exclusive: The parliamentarian isn’t in charge, you are

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See that word right there? “Advising.” Not enforcing. Here’s what the Congressional Research Service says on that point: “The parliamentarians and their deputies/assistants only offer advice that the presiding Representative or Senator may accept or reject.”

The presiding officer “may accept or reject” that advice. To quote Nir again, “Senators are free to run their chamber as they see fit. Elizabeth MacDonough is not their boss—it’s the other way around.” Republicans have known that, and acted on it to pass their massive tax cuts for rich people. In 2001, then-Majority Leader Trent Lott fired Bob Dove, who was parliamentarian, for “recent rulings that effectively made it harder for the GOP to push President Bush’s budget and tax cut proposals through the evenly divided body.”

Republicans sure know how to get what they want through the parliamentarian. Consider that the same official now in office, Elizabeth MacDonough, cleared two extremely controversial and partisan provisions in the 2017 GOP tax scam: the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalties. She ruled that both of those things could stay in the bill despite the fact that they didn’t have more than an “incidental” impact on budgets. That’s one of the rules the Senate set for itself in the budget reconciliation process: The bills can’t be projected to increase the federal deficit after 10 years, and they must affect federal spending or revenue. Their effect on spending or revenue must be “more than incidental” to their policy impact.

Republicans also know they can play this card and the traditional media will lap it up without question. “Reconciliation is designed as a budget thing and not necessarily a policy issue. So I think they’re going to have a very difficult time getting immigration in,” Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, told NBC. And Democrats are, so far, just accepting that.

“That’s going to be up to the parliamentarian—what’s in there. We’ll leave that to her discretion,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen, a Nevada Democrat. “And then, based on that, we’ll decide where the appropriate place is for it.” Which, again, no. It’s not up to the parliamentarian. It’s up the majority and whether or not they want to fight for what they believe in. It takes one senator and a presiding officer—in this case it would be Vice President Kamala Harris—to challenge that ruling. Then it would take a united Democratic caucus—with Harris—to overrule the parliamentarian with 51 votes. Is that a tall ask? Yes.

Is it a taller ask to make the millions of people toiling away for America—who helped feed this nation through a pandemic—to wait even longer for their reward? Absolutely.

Large majorities of voters think so, too. A path to citizenship for these folks is extremely popular. Recent polling conducted by Global Strategy Group, Hart Research, and BSP Research on behalf of FWD.us, the Immigration Hub, and America’s Voice finds that a “pathway to citizenship proposals remain incredibly popular as there is a large and stable consensus for reform.”

Pathway to citizenship proposals remain supported by a strong majority of voters, including pathways to citizenship for DREAMers (71% support/22% oppose), farmworkers (71%/21%), and for those with Temporary Protected Status (68% support/22% oppose). Notably, there is minimal opposition to all of these proposals (for example, just 12% strongly oppose a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers).

Recent NPR/Ipsos polls show essentially the same level of support.

This pretense that the parliamentarian is all powerful is a big problem for Democrats. It’s nearly as big a problem as the pretense that the filibuster is some kind of written-in-stone command from the Founding Fathers. In the real world, the idea that an unelected staffer can shut things down and keep the Senate from doing the actual work of the people just doesn’t sell. “We tried to get you good stuff, but the parliamentarian stopped us” is just not a good campaign slogan.

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