Democrats can pass another major piece of legislation — such as President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion-plus infrastructure plan — by revisiting the budget process they used to approve his coronavirus relief package without Republican support, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday.
The interpretation of the ruling from the Senate parliamentarian, the upper chamber’s official adviser on procedural matters, could give Democrats significantly more opportunities to push their legislative priorities past a filibuster. But the procedural leeway of using the budget process to make that happen may not be a panacea for the majority party: All 50 Democratic senators will have to go along with the approach, which moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have advised against using a second time.
A Democratic aide familiar with the ruling said the parliamentarian’s feedback is “a good first step.” However, the aide added, “we still have to work out the details.”
The decision, as read by Schumer’s office, represents a major expansion of the reconciliation process that allows passage of some bills with a simple Senate majority. That stretch of reconciliation empowers any party in full control of Washington to theoretically use the tool as often as they want, if Schumer decides to follow through on using the budget process to pass Biden’s infrastructure plan, which he has not yet done.
The parliamentarian’s opinion “is an important step forward that this key pathway is available to Democrats if needed,” Schumer’s spokesperson said in a statement Monday.
If he does proceed down that path, Schumer’s never-before-tried maneuver is sure to draw complaints from Republicans, who could weaponize the budget process themselves if they regain majorities in both chambers and the White House.
Schumer had asked the parliamentarian for permission to revisit the fiscal 2021 budget resolution that Democrats already deployed to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package, hoping to unlock a second attempt at reconciliation. If Democrats choose to reuse that budget measure, they’ll have at least three — and possibly more — opportunities to use reconciliation to pass a host of their priorities before the midterm elections.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Democrats may not want to use the procedure over and over again is the sheer pain inflicted by a process that forces members to spend hours upon hours on the floor in both chambers, in addition to two Senate voting marathons in which anyone can force a roll-call vote on any amendment of their choice.
While Democratic leaders haven’t officially decided to exclude Republicans in pursuit of Biden’s infrastructure ambitions, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed that none of his 50-member GOP conference would support Biden’s new spending bill. Without Republican votes, Democrats must rely on lockstep support from within the caucus, which is far from guaranteed.
For example, Biden has promised to fully pay for that package over the next 15 years with a panoply of tax increases — assuming the hikes aren’t rolled back in the years to come. That includes boosting the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, up from 21 percent. But at least one moderate Democrat — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), has already signaled that he wants a lower corporate rate.
Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.