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Senate parliamentarian strikes Pelosi’s $140M ‘tunnel of love’ to Silicon Valley from COVID relief bill

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The Senate’s parliamentarian has again ruled that a provision of the House-passed COVID-19 relief bill violates the chamber’s budget reconciliation process and has stricken it from consideration.

Last week, Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled, under the so-called Byrd rule, which prohibits consideration of unrelated provisions of bills that are being considered under the budget reconciliation process, that the House version containing a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour was also improper.

Now, MacDonough has scrapped $140 million earmarked for a rail project in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s California district after Republicans vilified it as wasteful spending, the New York Post reported.

GOP senators honed in on the project as one of many examples of “pork” that are not related in any way to providing Americans relief from the pandemic. Democrats have been pushing to get the legislation passed without any support from Republicans using the budget reconciliation process that only requires a majority vote.

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, nicknamed the project Pelosi’s “tunnel of love” as the chamber prepared to vote on the massive spending bill this week.

Aides to Pelosi defended the project, noting that mass transit ridership had fallen off dramatically during the pandemic, The Post reported, making taxpayer-funded assistance necessary.

“COVID-19 had an immediate and overwhelming effect on all of our transportation systems and the millions of transportation and construction jobs associated with them,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, told the outlet.

“As part of the $30 billion in public transit support, the House included $1.425 billion to help dozens of major transit rail capital projects, including the BART extension from San Jose to Santa Clara,” he added.

Nevertheless, “the Senate Parliamentarian has now ruled that the BART extension from San Jose to Santa Clara does not meet the requirements of the Byrd rule because it is part of a pilot project. Therefore, it will be removed from the reconciliation package,” Hammill said.

He added that another $1.5 million in funding for the Seaway International Bridge between Massena, New York, and Canada, was also scratched from the COVID bill.

The Democratic Party’s left-wing faction blasted MacDonough’s decision to strip the minimum wage provision from the bill and urged Senate Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris, the tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 chamber, to ignore it and pass the increase anyway.

“I certainly do think that there should be either an override (of MacDonough’s ruling) or a replacement. There are no more excuses,” “Squad” member Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said last week. 

“I think the parliamentarian was wrong on this call,” added Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

“This is an advisory opinion. We made a promise to raise the minimum wage. We now have to deliver on that promise to 27 million Americans who are not going to be convinced when we go back in two years and say ‘Sorry, the unelected parliamentarian told us we couldn’t raise the minimum wage,’” Rep. Pramilla Jayapal of Washington, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, noted.

While MacDonough wasn’t elected, she has held her appointed position since 2012. Also, her rulings are guided by the constitutionally passed Budget Reconciliation Act of 1974, as well as the Senate-approved Byrd rule.

Last week, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said Harris, herself a former U.S. senator like President Biden, would not vote to overturn MacDonough’s ruling on the minimum wage.

“Certainly that’s not something we would do. We’re going to honor the rules of the Senate and work within that system to get this bill passed,” he told MSNBC.

Jon Dougherty

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