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Parliamentarian Pressure

Elizabeth MacDonough Parliamentarian
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Right now, Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, may be the most powerful public official you’ve never heard of. The debate in Congress on a proposed $3.5 billion spending bill depends in great part on the advice she provides.

The massive spending bill is jam-packed with progressive priorities, many of which involve big policy changes. Senate Democrats are attempting to pass it using a budget process called reconciliation. Legislation passed under reconciliation must be related, more than incidentally, to spending and revenue and cannot be filibustered. Hence, it requires only a majority, 51 votes, rather than the 60 a filibuster would require.

As The Washington Post points out, progressive senators “are trying to stuff a lot into that narrow definition.” The bill isn’t finalized, but three of the plan’s proposals look a lot like brand new entitlement programs. One is universal pre-kindergarten. Another is up to 12 weeks of government-paid family leave.  And, thirdly, there’s a proposal for free community college.  There are also proposals to extend the Covid emergency child tax credit, expand Medicare, and implement many aspects of the Green New Deal.

None of these are safety net programs for the poor. The Wall Street Journal explains, they are “explicitly designed to make the middle-class dependent on government handouts.”

The parliamentarian is the rule-keeper of the Senate. It’s a non-partisan job and Elizabeth MacDonough has held it for 10 years. Her job is to advise senators in a nonpartisan way during legislative battles on what they “can and can’t do.” The Post cites former Senate historian Donald Ritchie, who says the parliamentarian, acting as a sort of umpire, “doesn’t write the rules, she enforces them.”

Last week, Ms. MacDonough heard arguments by senators from both parties about whether granting green cards to some 8 million people here illegally is primarily a budgetary decision. She says it isn’t.penna's vp small

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