The conventional wisdom about budget reconciliation, the unobstructed process by which the Senate can pass budget-related legislation with 50 votes, is that only one vote is obtained per fiscal year, for a maximum of two per calendar year. The Senate Democratic majority has already spent their reconciliation bill for fiscal year 2021 on the $ 1.9 billion American Rescue Plan, and the idea has been that they could use a second, tied to the arrival of fiscal year 2022 in October. next, in some kind of jam packed infrastructure, care economy, healthcare and all-purpose bill from who knows what else Since they don’t have the votes to remove obstructionism entirely, these two bills would be their two big chances. to enact its legislative agenda.
However, last week Senator Chuck Schumer’s Majority Leader asked Senate MP Elizabeth MacDonough, who advises on arcane house rules, to examine another section of the budget law that allows for the process. reconciliation. Section 304 of the Budget Act of 1974 allows the Senate to pass a resolution that “revises” the budget they have already passed. Schumer asked MacDonough – who recently had Democrats’ hopes of including a minimum wage increase in the aid bill crushed – if they could use that review process to create another reconciliation bill.
Schumer’s office announced late Monday that McDonough had agreed and that “a revised budget resolution may contain budget reconciliation instructions.”
What this means in the short term is that instead of having one more bill to avoid obstructionism this year, Democrats will have at least two, should they choose to use them.
Democrats have yet to commit to any legislative strategy on how they want to pass Biden’s infrastructure proposal, his next proposal to boost the “care economy,” or whatever else is coming. For now, committees are beginning to work on infrastructure proposals to see what could be done in a bipartisan fashion, something some centrist and vulnerable Senate Democrats insist they give a chance to. We will see. But Schumer, according to one aide, wanted to “maximize his options to allow Senate Democrats multiple avenues to advance President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda if Senate Republicans attempt to obstruct or dilute a bipartisan agreement.”
It could be that Democrats, after giving up on reaching an infrastructure deal with Republicans (or only reaching a modest one), decide to split the next two reconciliation bills according to how Biden presents them: one for him. traditional “hard”. infrastructure, and another for an extension of the improved Child Tax Credit, paid family and medical leave, and whatever else Biden comes up with.
But infrastructure legislation is a complicated project that will take time. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has viewed July 4 as when she would like the House to complete its infrastructure bill, and the Senate process is, and always will be, more arduous than the House process. . Anything Democrats decide to use in their current fiscal year reconciliation “review” would have to be done by September 30, the end of fiscal 2021. So they could try using that vehicle for another priority: reduced eligibility for Medicare, the DREAM Act, prescription drug costs, and reserving the 2022 tax reconciliation bill for infrastructure.
Or maybe they could fit in by raising the debt limit somewhere in there.
This would be a new precedent in an organism governed by them. The “review” clause has never been used before to squeeze out an additional reconciliation bill, and there are still questions about how far it can be extended. How many new budget resolutions that “revise” existing budget resolutions can be passed? Could there be infinite revised budget resolutions that generate infinite reconciliation bills within a given fiscal year? Schumer didn’t ask and MacDonough didn’t answer. Someone will ask that question eventually.
If this new precedent sounds like a ridiculous stretch, welcome the bankrupt United States Senate. As long as Senate obstructionism continues, majorities will continue to test the limits of the reconciliation process, a valuable legislative vehicle whose debate is limited by law. This new precedent would bring the body closer to a reality in which obstructionism does not effectively exist for items that have a direct budget impact, a term that senators have chosen to rely on a Senate staff member to adjudicate even with floor time. . And who is the madman who designed this system? None.
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