Kaine Cites 2005 Precedent for Including Immigration Pathway to Citizenship in Budget Reconciliation

Jul 27, 2021
4:01 PM

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Senate Democrats continue to move a 3.5 trillion dollar budget reconciliation through the upper chamber of Congress this week on Capitol Hill, the question remains as to whether the agreement will include a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

“There’s a 2005 reconciliation bill that had a significant immigration component to it that included changing status,” Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) told Latino Rebels on Monday afternoon in the Senate tunnels. 

“I think in that case it was something like from a work visa to a legal permanent resident status and that was fine to include in a reconciliation bill,” Kaine continued. “With that precedent, obviously we have to meet parliamentarian standards on anything in the bill, but we think there’s precedent for including some immigration components in it.”

Elizabeth MacDonough, the 6th parliamentarian of the United States Senate and the first woman to hold the role, is responsible for interpreting the rules and parliamentary procedures of the upper chamber of Congress. 

When LR asked Bernie Sanders if he supports overruling MacDonough if she advises against including immigration reform in Senate Democrats’ budget reconciliation package, the independent Senator from Vermont did not waffle: “The answer is yes.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) last week when asked by reporters if he supports overruling MacDonough.

“We’re not there yet,” said Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO) when asked the same on Monday.

“I’d love to see the details,” Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO) told LR outside the Senate chamber, “but it seems to me if you had a comprehensive solution to immigration, it would be a significant ‘pay for.’ In other words, it would generate a lot of revenue as people, instead of paying under the table would pay taxes on what they pay to workers.”

Budget reconciliation is a complicated legislative procedure allowed under the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 through which Congress can pass a budget “affecting mainly permanent spending and revenue programs” with the main focus of deficit reduction. Budget reconciliation “prohibits inclusion in reconciliation of matter [sic] unrelated to the deficit reduction goals of the reconciliation process.”

In practice, budget reconciliation allows Senate Democrats to pass budget legislation by a simple majority, thus avoiding the inevitable Republican filibuster.

By including immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship in the $3.5 trillion budget agreement reached last week by Senate Democrats, the majority party can, in theory, pass changes to federal immigration laws that have been long-sought by a generation of progressives and moderates in both chambers of Congress. The last major reform to immigration law was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1985.

Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) both indicated to Latino Rebels earlier this month that there was funding for immigration reform in Senate Democrats’ budget proposal.

Democratic Senators Chris Murphy (CT), Cory Booker (NJ), Ben Ray Luján (NM), Brian Schatz (HI), Jon Tester (MT), and Amy Klobuchar (MN) all indicated to Latino Rebels they support including immigration reform in the budget agreement.


Pablo Manríquez is Latino Rebels’ Washington correspondent. He is an immigrant from Santiago de Chile with a political science degree from the University of Notre Dame. The Washington Post calls him “an Internet folk hero.” Twitter: @PabloReports.