Recently the role of the Senate Parliamentarian has become a focal point in the upcoming 2021 COVID stimulus package. Specifically, the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled against allowing a $15 minimum wage in the budget reconciliation process.

I have so many questions about the Senate Parliamentarian.

  1. Who/what is the Senate Parliamentarian. Is it one person? Is it an office?
  2. How do you become a Senate Parliamentarian? Is it an appointed position?
  3. If it is not an elected position, why can their subjective interpretation halt the legislative process of elected officials?
  4. If the Senate Parliamentarian rules out certain amendments, can they be overruled? Has this happened before?
  • I agree with the other commenters that it's probably best to ask question 5 as a separate question. If you think the first four points help introduce question 5, feel free to link to this question as background material in the new question.
    – JJJ
    Mar 3 '21 at 18:34

The parliamentarian is a Senate staffer who is an expert on Senate procedure and precedent. Senate rules are fairly complicated (parliamentary procedure in general can be complicated), and there's some 230 years of precedent to consider as well. When a procedural question comes up and the presiding officer has to make a decision, the parliamentarian advises them on what Senate rules say they should do. Senators aren't generally experts on this themselves and their personal staff probably doesn't include a true master of Senate procedure (it just doesn't come up that often for individual senators), so the parliamentarian is a resource for whoever is presiding that day.

The parliamentarian is chosen by the majority leader and can be fired by them; I'm not sure if this is formally a vote of the whole Senate or if it's formally entirely up to the majority leader. However, it's historically a nonpartisan job, and parliamentarians typically serve long terms.

As a staffer, the parliamentarian can't actually make binding decisions. The initial decision on whether something complies with Senate rules is made by the presiding officer, and the whole Senate can vote to override them. However, ignoring their advice has political costs -- it looks like you're disregarding the rules.

  • Thanks for the answer, I think it covered a fair amount. Shame the question got closed, but I'll be accepting yours regardless.
    – Yvihs
    Feb 28 '21 at 23:57
  • And overriding of the decision by the Senate replaces the previous rules, whether truly different or not, as they are (aside from the mandate in the constitution) just precedent. Mar 2 '21 at 21:10

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