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 are still vowed to do whatever they can to stop Biden, but the opinion of an official parliamentarian this week may be a 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 typically needed to push through. major legislation beyond threats of systematic obstruction.
There has been talk of trying to change the rules of filibuster, but that would be a huge political boost in a divided Senate that is devoted to tradition.
The White House was encouraged by the parliamentarian’s decision but is not giving up the support of some Republicans, despite their strong opposition to paying for much of the infrastructure plan with an increase in corporate taxes. The president, said press secretary Jen Psaki, “continues to believe … that there is a bipartisan path forward.”
However, it is clear that the deep partisan polarization in Washington has led to a new era of lawmaking. Seasoned politicians on Capitol Hill dig deep into the procedural toolbox to find ways around the deadlock that typically leaves Congress at a standstill.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell berated Biden for being partisan and said on Tuesday his side would not support the $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure package Biden wants to pay off with the tax hike on companies.
“For a president who presented himself as a bipartisan, I haven’t seen that yet,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky.
McConnell said Biden is a “great person, I know him well, I like him. We’ve been friends for years. A moderate, it was not.
While Congressional Democrats had previously planned to use “budget reconciliation,” a special budget-related procedure with a 51-vote threshold to adopt parts of Biden’s $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure package, the decision parliamentarian opens the door to its use on certain other priorities. .
Discussions revolve around an overhaul of immigration that could pave the way to citizenship for some. There is also a discussion on using the process to lower the Medicare retirement age from 65 to 60 and other items on the agenda.
Schumer’s office said no decision had been made. Any action always involves wresting the consensus of the 50 Democratic, Progressive and Centrist caucus senators, which could prove disheartening. But spokesman Justin Goodman hailed the parliamentarian’s opinion as “an important step forward to make this key path available to Democrats if necessary.”
Using fiscal rules to pass sweeping party line voting legislation is nothing new. Congress used the budget reconciliation process last month to approve Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 bailout despite the lack of Republican support.
First used in 1980, the process has been in use for most years since, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.
In 2017, a Republican-controlled Congress used the fiscal reconciliation to approve the Trump-era GOP tax cuts on a party line vote. In 2010, Democrats used it for the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. George W. Bush has twice relied on reconciliation to approve tax cuts, including once when Vice President Dick Cheney voted to break the tie.
But the opinion of non-partisan Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth McDonough on Monday night means the process can potentially be used multiple times this year – rather than just two or three times, as expected.
Typically, Congress has one budget resolution every fiscal year, or two every calendar year since the fiscal year begins October 1. The parliamentarian noted that if the annual budget resolution is revised, the process can be used again.
It’s a quicker route to embracing some of Biden’s priorities than clearing the Senate filibuster, the long-standing practice that some senators and critics say is a flashback used by pro-segregationists to block legislation. on civil rights and should be amended.
Systematic obstruction allows any senator to oppose consideration of legislation or other matters, and can usually only be overcome with a threshold of 60 votes – a tall order in the chamber now evenly divided.
Democrats hold a 50-50 majority in the Senate because party vice chairman Kamala Harris can vote a tie.
While Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. And other leading progressives have advocated changing the rules of filibuster, more centrist Democrats, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, disagree.
Using budget reconciliation could provide a short-term solution, but it is not without drawbacks. This involves a tedious process and sometimes Senate sessions that last all night, known as a “ramas vote,” with senators proposing several amendments.
In addition, the budget tools have other limitations insofar as the proposals must conform to the budget guidelines, which means that not all bills would be eligible.
Already, the parliamentarian earlier this year rejected a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour under the COVID-19 program because it did not meet budget guidelines.
Voting rights, gun violence bills and other laws would likely face similar limitations.
Those seeking changes to the filibuster rules welcomed the budget tool, but said changes to the practice of filibuster were still needed.
“It’s great that Senate Democrats are able to pass many of their economic priorities with a simple majority,” said Eli Zupnick of Fix our Senate, a group that advocates filibuster changes.
But he said “it won’t be enough if the filibuster remains a tool.”
Associated Press editor Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.