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Can Democrats Revise Immigration Through Reconciliation?  Senate assistants try to influence the application of the rules

WASHINGTON – Republican advisers challenged their Democratic counterparts on Friday during a debate before the Senate’s top rule enforcement official that could determine whether up to eight million undocumented immigrants have a path to citizenship.

The debate, which took place behind closed doors, took place as House committees drafted and put forward key elements of a sweeping $ 3.5 trillion spending plan that Democrats pushed to dramatically expand the social safety net and testing the limits of Senate rules.

Democrats have sought to include a long-awaited overhaul of the immigration law in the ambitious economic package, sparking objections from Republicans, who say the proposals are not really budgetary in nature.

The assistants – seasoned Democrats and Republicans with expertise in immigration law and the budget – met with Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate MP, who serves as the chamber’s arbiter of her own rules. It was not clear how quickly after the debate Mrs MacDonough would make a decision.

Democrats are trying to change legislation through the fast-track process known as reconciliation, where 50 Senate Democrats can pass budget legislation with a simple majority vote, thus avoiding filibuster. But to use the process, policy measures must adopt what is known as the Byrd Rule – named after West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd – which states that any provision must have a direct effect on the budget and must be more than “just an accessory.”

Ms MacDonough, a non-partisan career manager, has already drawn criticism from Democrats: in February, she banned the inclusion of a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour in the pandemic relief package of 1, $ 9 trillion, angering some progressives who have complained about his outsized influence. Its decisions are merely advisory, but several Democratic senators have indicated they would hesitate to overturn it.

Democrats are pushing for legal status for people brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers; immigrants who have been granted temporary protection status for humanitarian reasons; nearly a million agricultural workers; and millions more that Democrats see as “essential workers.”

The budgetary cost of changes to the immigration law – which affect health care benefits, Medicaid spending and tax credits – exceeds $ 139 billion over 10 years, according to preliminary figures from the Congressional Budget Office. In addition, Democrats estimate that the legalization campaign would add $ 1.5 trillion to the US economy over the next decade, creating more than 400,000 jobs.

Republicans, however, are resisting the proposals, arguing they are tangential to the budget and that Congress should focus on securing the southern border before trying to revise immigration law.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second Senate Democrat, said in a recent interview that he had lobbied for the immigration overhaul to be included in the budget package after the failed talks he had organized with a bipartisan group of 15 senators.

“Well I tried,” Mr. Durbin said of his previous attempt. “We have had six or eight bipartite meetings. I was never able to approach 10 Republican senators and most of them did not show up systematically. There was not enough interest from their side of the aisle on the subject.

Time is running out for the Dreamers, said Durbin, adding that a Supreme Court ruling against them could endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

“If we don’t move, there is a very real chance that these people will be subject to deportation,” he said.

Kevin Kayes, a former Deputy Senate MP who advises pro-immigration group, said it made more sense to include immigration changes in the reconciliation process than raising the minimum wage .

“The minimum wage,” he said, “is a mandate from the private sector. With immigration, we are talking about a basic government function.

Immigration advocates have prepared back-up plans in case the parliamentarian does not vote in their favor, including updating the immigration register.

Emily cochrane contributed reports.

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