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Big Picture: Senate Majority Leader’s Reconciliation Gambit Generates Confusion

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Big Picture: Senate Majority Leader’s Reconciliation Gambit Generates Confusion

Monday, April 12, 2021
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We share reporting by Politico Pro to keep our members abreast of broader discussions on how many reconciliation packages Congress could advance in a year, as these could generate additional opportunities to advance ANCOR priorities. Traditionally, due to the complex rules surrounding the process, the Senate has not advanced more than two reconciliation packages in a single year. In 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act was passed through reconciliation to provide the nation with COVID-19 financial aid. This would in theory have left the Senate with the capacity for only one more package, which would likely have been used to advance President Biden’s jobs and infrastructure package. However, Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has negotiated a rule change that could allow for a third bill, with a use to be determined… if the Senate can figure out what the rule change actually means.

“Senate Democrats touted a wonky budget ruling this week as empowering them to muscle through more big-ticket bills without any Republican support. But not everyone fully understands it.

Days later, congressional aides and budget experts — including some who have seen the actual ruling — are still confused about the decision from the Senate parliamentarian, the chamber’s behind-the-scenes rules referee. Enough issues remain unresolved that it’s still not clear what the ruling means for President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion-plus infrastructure and jobs agenda, in addition to long-held Democratic priorities such as immigration that could get roped into the budget debate. The parliamentarian typically keeps its views under wraps, and they came up only briefly in a Monday night announcement from a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

According to Schumer’s spokesperson, the parliamentarian had advised that Democrats can revisit the complex budget maneuver that was used to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and unlock a second opportunity at clearing major legislation without Senate Republican votes. Still, even as Schumer’s aide touted the ruling as ‘an important step forward’ in giving Democrats a powerful extra pathway to avert a GOP filibuster, he acknowledged that ‘some parameters still need to be worked out.’

The befuddlement that still surrounds the parliamentarian’s opinion has major consequences for the Democratic agenda. The decision could give Democrats at least three more opportunities to steer bills past Republican opposition before the midterm elections without trying to axe the Senate filibuster — a move that doesn’t yet have universal support within their party. But if the ruling carries certain constraints, enduring the grueling budget process could be much less appetizing for Democratic leaders.

And their members already aren’t excited about turbo-charging a legislative path that demands hours of floor time.

[…]

Senate Republican aides with firsthand knowledge of the parliamentarian’s decision said it isn’t clear what legislative priorities Democrats could pass with a possible extra shot at reconciliation, or even whether the ruling would limit Democrats' use of their second attempt. The parliamentarian’s opinion also doesn’t specify whether such action is even allowable this fiscal year, or whether any party would have the freedom to unlock unlimited opportunities to use reconciliation.

One House Democratic lawmaker observed that the party ‘can put as much into one reconciliation bill as we can into two,’ questioning the practical advantage of Schumer exercising the new power he appears to have earned.

[…]

In fact, Democrats stress that they've made no decisions about whether to accept the binds of the budget process to help pass Biden’s infrastructure agenda or other legislative priorities. And they acknowledge that the parliamentarian’s ruling — while significant — raises a number of questions.”