A top Senate official ruled that a measure to grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants must come out of the plan, as President Biden said a final deal would take more time.
WASHINGTON — Democrats’ $2.2 trillion social safety net, climate and tax bill faced new setbacks on Thursday as President Biden conceded that the measure was stalled for the moment and a top Senate official decided that a section granting legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants must be dropped from the legislation.
The decision by Senate parliamentarian was just the latest in a series of blows to the measure, leaving Democrats frustrated and resigned to falling short of their goal of passing the legislation this year. But it was not a surprise, given that it was the third time the chamber’s top rules enforcer had rejected a bid by Democrats to use the bill to salvage their hopes of enacting an immigration overhaul — a top Democratic priority — including legalizing large numbers of undocumented immigrants.
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, who for years has worked to provide a path to citizenship for the young immigrants known as Dreamers, said he was “disappointed and considering what options remain.”
“We’re not going to stop fighting for them,” Mr. Durbin said.
It came as Mr. Biden issued a lengthy statement noting that he had so far failed to reach agreement with Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a crucial Democratic holdout, on the broader package, and foreshadowing a rocky — and potentially lengthy — road ahead to shepherd the bill into law.
“I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he had spoken with both Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, on Thursday. “It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote.”
He said that the work would continue “over the days and weeks ahead,” and that talks with Mr. Manchin would continue. Mr. Biden did not mention the ruling, which was released just minutes before he issued the statement, but vowed to see the bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, enacted into law.
“We will — we must — get Build Back Better passed, even in the face of Republican opposition,” he said.
Mr. Manchin has balked at the size of the package, and Mr. Biden said in his statement that the senator had signaled in their talks that he wants a bill closer in size to the $1.85 trillion framework the president unveiled in late October.
Despite unanimous Republican opposition, Democrats had hoped to muscle the measure through the evenly divided Senate by Christmas, using the fast-track budget reconciliation process, which shields fiscal legislation from a filibuster.
But doing so would require the vote of every Democratic senator, making Mr. Manchin’s objections fatal. His concerns have already prompted led Democrats to strip yet another climate provision from the package, this time a plan to permanently ban new offshore drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. More changes are likely as Democrats seek to win his vote.
Mr. Manchin has infuriated some of his colleagues by pushing for changes to a planned extension of expanded monthly payments to families with children. Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York could be seen on the Senate floor late Thursday in an animated conversation with Mr. Manchin, who voted for the expansion as part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic aid law in March.
The legislation must also adhere to strict rules governing reconciliation, which require that every provision have a direct effect on the federal budget.
Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, who serves as the chamber’s arbiter of its rules, has repeatedly ruled that the immigration provisions do not.
On Thursday, she rejected a third plan that would have expanded the homeland security secretary’s authority to grant a temporary status known as parole to undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for a decade, providing them with work permits and shielding them from deportation. The work permits would have lasted five years, and then would need to be renewed.
Biden’s Social Policy and Climate Bill at a Glance
The proposal would have included most undocumented immigrants who have lived continuously in the United States since before Jan. 1, 2011, and could have helped about 6.5 million people. It would have essentially codified an enhanced version of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program created by President Barack Obama in 2012.
“The proposed parole policy is not much different in its effect than the previous proposals we have considered,” the parliamentarian wrote, according to a copy of her decision obtained by The New York Times. “These are substantial policy changes with lasting effects just like those we previously considered and outweigh the budgetary impact.”
Mr. Schumer released a statement with five other Democratic senators condemning the decision.
“We strongly disagree with the Senate parliamentarian’s interpretation of our immigration proposal, and we will pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act,” they said. “Throughout the entire reconciliation process, we have worked to ensure that immigration reform was not treated as an afterthought.”
A White House spokesperson called the decision “deeply disappointing,” saying it “relegates millions to an uncertain and frightening future” and urging Congress “to stop kicking the can down the road and finally provide certainty and stability” to such immigrants.
Although the parliamentarian’s guidance can be overruled on the Senate floor, it is all but guaranteed that Democrats do not have the votes to do so.
The Senate now appears poised to leave in the next few days for the rest of the year with much of Mr. Biden’s legislative agenda stalled, although Democrats are working to confirm outstanding administration nominations before doing so.
The demise of the immigration language, coupled with the impending holiday departure, is likely to further infuriate liberal Democrats who feared Senate centrists would ultimately reject the entire package.
“We sent it to the upper chamber based on the president’s promise that he could deliver the 50 senators needed to make it law,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, adding that she told Mr. Biden the Senate should stay through the holidays to work on the bill. “We trust the president to follow through on that promise.”