Democrats to make pitch Friday for pathway to citizenship in spending bill

Democrats to make pitch Friday for pathway to citizenship in spending bill
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats will meet with the parliamentarian on Friday to make their pitch for including a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants in their $3.5 trillion spending package, two sources familiar with the plans confirmed to The Hill. 

Senate Democrats haven't unveiled their immigration language as they've continued to negotiate throughout a weeks-long summer break, but they want the sending plan to include a pathway to citizenship for at least "Dreamers," immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and long-term agricultural workers.

Democrats are using the budget reconciliation rules to pass the $3.5 trillion spending plan through the Senate without GOP votes, bypassing the 60-vote legislative filibuster. That places tight restrictions on what can be included and requires Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a former immigration lawyer, to weigh in on whether it complies with the chamber's arcane rules. 

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One of the sources cautioned that Friday's meeting was likely the beginning of the process with the parliamentarian on the immigration language that Democrats are hoping to get into the bill. 

Democrats are able to revise their language if MacDonough rejects the initial language, the source added. 

Republicans, meanwhile, are expected to use Friday's meeting to make their case to the parliamentarian that Democrats' plan to include a pathway to citizenship doesn't comply with the budget rules that govern what can be included in Democrats' sweeping spending package. 
 
The Senate's Byrd Rule details what can be included in the budget package and passed by a simple majority, meaning without needing GOP votes. One of its most well-known requirements is that any provision in the bill has to impact the federal government's spending or revenues and that the impact can't be "merely incidental" to its nonbudgetary intentions. The parliamentarian will determine if that requirement is met. 

It wouldn't be the first time MacDonough has ruled against priorities from both parties.

In 2017, she warned that a Senate GOP's plan for repealing ObamaCare didn't comply with the rules. And earlier this year, she warned Democrats that their $15 per hour minimum wage plan couldn't be passed under the budget process, resulting in it being stripped out of the bill in the Senate. 

Democrats had hoped to be able to get a long-sought bipartisan deal on immigration reform. But bipartisan talks led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Democrats look for Plan B after blow on immigration Democrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight MORE (D-Ill.) have been slow-going and the party views reconciliation as their best shot for getting reform to Biden's desk. 

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Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLouisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in McConnell signals Senate GOP will oppose combined debt ceiling-funding bill MORE (D-N.Y.) told House Democrats earlier this year that he was exploring if it was possible to include immigration under budget reconciliation. 

Democrats believe their argument is strengthened by Congress passing legislation under the budget process in 2005 that included immigration changes. They've pointed to quotes from Republicans in 2005 supportive of using reconciliation to recapture employment-based visas. 

"The Judiciary Committee decided to sweep all of the unused H-1B visas for the last few years and to use that as a means to satisfy the reconciliation instructions. ... It will keep jobs here in America rather than export them to places like India and China," Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Democrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards MORE (R-Texas) said at the time.