Dems Can Only Sidestep GOP on One Bill This Year, Senate Parliamentarian Rules

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) touts Senate Democrats’ legislative accomplishments at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 25, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/Reuters)

The Senate parliamentarian issued a new ruling that would effectively allow Democrats to use automatic budget reconciliation just one more time this year to bypass Republicans to advance President Biden’s progressive agenda. 

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that a revision to the 2021 budget resolution cannot be automatically discharged from the Senate Budget Committee, according to The Hill. This means that Democrats would need at least one Republican on the 11-11 panel to vote with them if they want to use reconciliation on more than one occasion before the legislative session ends in October.

The ruling, issued on Friday, effectively means that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) will only be able to use reconciliation one more time this year to pass Biden’s sweeping policies with a simple majority instead of with 60 votes required by the Senate filibuster. 

The ruling means Democrats will not be able to split the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, and the president’s proposals to expand Medicare and lower the price of prescription drugs into separate reconciliation packages. Instead, it will all have to be joined into one budget reconciliation package in order to advance with a simple majority vote.

While reconciliation bills are limited to budget matters and have historically been limited to one per fiscal year, Democrats had hoped to pass multiple reconciliation bills each year under the guise of revising the existing budget resolution.

However, MacDonough has now ruled that in order to revise a budget resolution, the measure must go through committee and have floor amendment votes — making the process of revising a budget as lengthy as creating a fresh one, according to Bloomberg. The Senate parliamentarian also ruled that there must be a legitimate, non-political reason for a revision, such as a new economic downturn.

Democrats can now only create multiple reconciliation vehicles based on the 2021 budget resolution or 2022 budget resolution if they can persuade a Republican on the Budget Committee to vote to revise the budget.

The ruling makes it more likely that Democrats will pursue a fresh fiscal 2022 budget to bypass Republicans if infrastructure negotiations fail, according to Bloomberg.

The news comes as Biden said on Tuesday that June “should be a month of action on Capitol Hill” and that while pundits on TV may ask why he has not done more to pass his legislative priorities that it is because he “only has a majority of effectively four votes in the house and a tie in the Senate with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends,” likely referring to Senators Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.).

During a press briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki attempted to rewrite Biden’s remarks, claiming that the president was only commenting on TV punditry.

“I can tell you that sometimes these conversations can be oversimplified. TV isn’t always made for complex conversations about policymaking,” she said. “What the president was simply conveying was that his threshold, his litmus test is not to see eye-to-eye on every single detail of every issue and he doesn’t with Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin.”

“He believes there’s an opportunity to work together to make progress to find areas of common ground even if you have areas of disagreement,” Psaki said.

However, Republicans have criticized Biden and his party for doing little to work with the GOP to find common ground. Democrats used budget reconciliation earlier this year to pass the president’s COVID-19 response package with a simple majority and without Republican support.

“He knows well having served 36 years in the Senate that sometimes it’s not a straight line to victory or success, sometimes it takes more time and he’s open to many paths forward,” she said. “I don’t think he was intending to convey anything more than a little bit of commentary on TV punditry.” 

She added that his comments were not conveying a new position on the filibuster, despite a reporter noting that Biden had essentially accused the two moderate Democrats of standing in the way of his agenda.

“His view on the filibuster continues to be that there should be a path forward for Democrats and Republicans to make voting easier, to move forward on progress for the American people. That position hasn’t changed,” she said. 

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