The Senate Parliamentarian is a non-political position. It’s an advisor, or kind of like Congress’ referee. Elizabeth MacDonough has held this spot since 2012 when she was appointed by then-Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid (D-NV).
MacDonough crushed the hopes of many Democrats, and gave some Republicans reason to celebrate, when she said Democrats can’t include a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients in their budget reconciliation bill.
Soon after that announcement, Senators Durbin and Padilla released a statement saying they are disappointed but already working on different immigration-related proposals for her to consider.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell struck a different tone.
In this instance, MacDonough says it isn’t fair to address immigration reform in legislation not subject to the filibuster.
The Parliamentarian serves at the pleasure of the Majority Leader and she can be fired at any time, something many on social media are discussing.
There is precedent for the parliamentarian to be fired as MSNBC’s Medhi Hasan explained over the weekend.
”You might say, ‘Fire the parliamentarian,'” Hasan said. “That’s a bit radical, they can’t do that. Tell that to the Republican Party. They fired the parliamentarian in 2001. Trent Lott did it, when the then-parliamentarian Robert Dove got in the way of Republican tax cuts.”
When that happened in 2011, Democrats took to the Senate Floor to express their thoughts on the firing.
”The Parliamentarian’s advice to the presiding officer cannot always please all senators,” then-Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) said on the Floor. “If that were not so, Mr. President, we would not have a Parliamentarian. If the Parliamentarian cannot advise the chair what the Parliamentarian truly believes what the law and the precedence of the Senate require, then the Office of the Parliamentarian has really ceased to exist. If the Parliamentarian merely says what the Majority Leader wishes, then the Majority Leader has taken over the job.”
As recently as February, Democrats said they won’t fire the parliamentarian.
“I don’t think you fire a parliamentarian if you have confidence that they’re making their judgement to the best of their ability. It’s a separate question if you feel that you should overturn the judgement,” Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) said.
Overturning the judgement is possible because Vice President Harris has the final say in the Senate. It isn’t likely, but as the Parliamentarian issues more opinions, it is an option.
MacDonough has already said that a $15 minimum wage can’t be included in reconciliation bills, making that decision earlier in 2021.
It’s expected she will have more decisions coming on issues including labor practices, clean energy and drug pricing.
On labor, MacDonough will decide if Democrats can let the National Labor Relations Board issue new penalties to employers for a variety of unfair labor practices. Republicans say the Parliamentarian should say no on this issue because it’s similar to rewriting federal labor law. Democrats believe she should say yes, because it was done before when Republicans took away the Affordable Care Act penalty for not having insurance.
When it comes to clean energy, Minnesota’s Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) unveiled a proposal that financially incentivizes utility companies to grow their clean energy sources and penalizes them if they don’t. Republicans say the way the Democrats’ plan calls for energy companies to spend that incentive has nothing to do with the federal budget and shouldn’t be included. Democrats are focusing on an independent study saying this would add more than 7 million new jobs and add nearly a trillion dollars to the economy within a decade.
On prescription medicines, the plan proposed by progressive Democrats would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and penalize drug companies that raise their prices more than inflation. The sticking point comes with the next section. The plan calls to keep those policies for people who get insurance through their work or the exchanges. The Parliamentarian must decide if making those changes has a direct impact on federal spending.