WASHINGTON (AP) – With a powerful new tool, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has new options to potentially advance President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package. and other priorities beyond Republican obstruction in the 50-50 split Senate.
Republicans still promise to do everything they can to stop Biden, but an official MP’s opinion this week is a potential game changer. It frees up multiple options for Democrats to advance parts of Biden’s agenda, including immigration and Medicare legislation, with 51 votes in the 100-member Senate instead of the 60 normally needed to make important legislation exceed those threats of obstruction.
There has been talk of trying to change the obstruction rules, but that would be a very heavy political push in the Senate divided and devoted to tradition.
The White House was encouraged by the MP’s ruling, but does not renounce the support of some Republicans, despite strong opposition to paying for much of the infrastructure plan with a corporate tax increase. The president, said press secretary Jen Psaki, “continues to believe … that there is a bipartisan path forward.”
However, it is clear that deep partisan polarization in Washington has ushered in a new era in legislation. Politics experts on Capitol Hill are digging deep into the procedural toolbox to find ways to avoid the deadlock that typically leaves Congress paralyzed.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell chided Biden for his partisanship and declared Tuesday that his side would not support the $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure package that Biden wants to pay for with the corporate tax increase.
“For a president who ran bipartisan, I haven’t seen him yet,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky.
McConnell said that Biden is a “great person, I know him well, I like him. We have been friends for years. A moderate that has not been “.
While Congressional Democrats had already planned to resort to “budget reconciliation,” a special budget-related procedure with a 51-vote threshold to pass parts of Biden’s $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure package, the MP’s ruling opens the door. to use in certain other priorities. .
The talks revolve around immigration reform that could provide a path to citizenship for some. They also talk about using the process to lower the Medicare retirement age from 65 to 60 and other items on the agenda.
Schumer’s office said no decisions have been made. Any action still involves tearing the consensus of the 50 senators in the Democratic caucus, progressives and centrists alike, which could be overwhelming. But spokesman Justin Goodman welcomed the MP’s opinion as “an important step forward that this key avenue is available to Democrats if necessary.”
The use of budget rules to pass broad legislation in a party line vote is not new. Congress used the budget reconciliation process last month to pass Biden’s massive $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 bailout despite no Republican support.
First used in 1980, the process has been used most years since then, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.
In 2017, a Republican-controlled Congress used budget reconciliation to pass Republican Trump-era tax cuts in a party-line vote. In 2010, Democrats used it for the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. George W. Bush relied on reconciliation twice to pass the tax cuts, including once when Vice President Dick Cheney cast the tiebreaker vote.
But the opinion of nonpartisan Senate MP Elizabeth McDonough, Monday night means that the process can potentially be used multiple times this year, rather than just two or three times as expected.
Generally, Congress has a budget resolution each fiscal year, or two each calendar year since the fiscal year begins on October 1. The MP noted that if the annual budget resolution is revised, the process can be used again.
That’s a quicker route to passing certain Biden priorities than gutting Senate filibuster, the long-standing practice that some senators and critics say is a pushback used by pro-segregationists to block civil rights legislation and should. change.
Obstructionism allows any senator to object to consideration of legislation or other issues and can usually only be overcome with a 60-vote threshold, a difficult task in the now evenly divided chamber.
Democrats have a 50-50 majority in the Senate because the party’s vice president, Kamala Harris, can cast a tiebreaker vote.
While Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and other progressive leaders have advocated changing the obstruction rules, more centrist Democrats, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, disagree.
Using budget reconciliation might provide a short-term solution, but it is not without its drawbacks. It involves a cumbersome process and sometimes all-night Senate sessions, called “vote-a-branches,” as senators offer multiple amendments.
Additionally, budgeting tools have other limits in that proposals must conform to budget guidelines, meaning that not all bills would qualify.
The MP already rejected earlier this year a proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour as part of the COVID-19 package because it did not meet budget guidelines.
Voting rights, gun violence bills, and other laws would likely meet similar limits.
Those seeking changes to the filing rules welcomed the budgeting tool, but said changes in filing practice are still needed.
“It’s great that Senate Democrats can pass many of their economic priorities with a simple majority,” said Eli Zupnick of Fix our Senate, a group that advocates for obstructionist change.
But he said “that will not be enough if obstructionism remains a tool.”
Associated Press journalist Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.