Senate Parliamentarian Lets Dems Get Down, Funky, Pass Some Bills
Fans of obscure US Senate procedure, rejoice! The Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled last night that Democrats can use the weird budget reconciliation process to pass more than a single bill in a fiscal year. This isn't only good news for procedure geeks, it is also good news for the US Americans like such as, particularly since reconciliation is virtually the only way to pass things with the tied "majority" Senate Democrats have.
In practical terms, this means Democrats can probably pass much or all of President Joe Biden's big infrastructure bill, the American Jobs Plan, even now that Republican leader Mitch McConnell has vowed no Senate Republicans will vote for it. And the procedure could potentially be used again and again, who even knows? (The parliamentarian, that's who.) But the bills would have to be related to Senate budget processes like taxing and spending, so reconciliation still couldn't be used to pass non-spending things Dems want, like voting rights protections or immigration reform, even if they contain some budget-y stuff.
Still, it's a pretty big deal, even if a spokesperson for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that, for the moment at least, "no decisions have been made on a legislative path forward" on passing anything by reconciliation, which translates to "we are totally going to do this but first we have to get our ducks in a row and figure out how best to play with this new toy."
And who knows? Maybe Republicans will suddenly decide they'd like to do some bipartisan infrastructure negotiating, at least if any Senate Rs can manage not to slip on the ice of a frozen-over Hell or be knocked over by a flying pig. Schumer's spox said the parliamentarian's ruling "allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues."
For an explanation of the One Weird Trick, which was proposed in a query by Schumer's office and then approved by MacDonough, let's go with Vox's Li Zhou and Ella Nilsen:
The decision is based on MacDonough's interpretation of Section 304 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which allows lawmakers to revise a budget resolution before the end of the fiscal year that it covers. Given her decision, Democrats can now edit the 2021 budget resolution they already passed, and include instructions for another bill.
Also too, as CBS News 'plains,
MacDonough determined that Section 304 would allow for a second reconciliation process to be used this fiscal year, because it says "the two Houses may adopt a concurrent resolution on the budget which revises or reaffirms the concurrent resolution on the budget for such fiscal year most recently agreed to."
In other words, since a reconciliation bill is just a shell of an earlier budget bill that gets filled out with whatever stuff the majority wants (as long as it's budget-y), the ruling means Dems can take the framework of the bill that became Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and then revise it with all the amendments they need to turn it into the infrastructure bill. And that language about revising sure sounds like reconciliation could be used over and over; that may be one of the things Democratic leadership wants to discuss before moving forward.
It's nice they can do that, but also a hella weird way of passing legislation. Go ahead and try writing a Saturday-morning cartoon song to explain that!
Even if they're allowed to use reconciliation to pass stuff, Senate Democrats, with only the one-vote majority provided by Vice President Kamala Harris, would need to get all members of the caucus on board to use the maneuver. Yes, you were right to have that premonition that Sen. Joe Manchin (D*-West Virginia) might show up in this story to piss in everyone's cornflakes.
You see, Biden's infrastructure plan would be paid for, over 15 years, by repealing parts of the 2017 Big Fat Tax Cut for Rich Fuckwads, including moving the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent, along with some other measures like making sure companies pay tax on overseas business things. Manchin said yesterday he can't abide such oppression of job creators or something, even though the rate wouldn't go all the way back to the 35 percent rate where it was prior to 2017 and even though two weeks ago he explained we need a "massive" infrastructure plan and we need to raise taxes to pay for it. But that was a 25 percent top corporate rate instead of a 28 percent top corporate rate, which Manchin doesn't like because he has to frame himself as the One Guy In Biden's Way:
"As the bill exists today, it needs to be changed," Manchin told Hoppy Kercheval, the host of West Virginia Metro News's "Talkline" show. "I think [the corporate rate] should have never been under 25%, that's the worldwide average. And that's what basically every corporation would have told you was fair."
Well, at least gets Manchin's name in the news again — when clearly, the name that needs to be in the news is Hoppy Kercheval.
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