POLITICS

Chuck Schumer Tries To Squeeze Extra Juice From Reconciliation Process

Democrats believe they can pass additional spending bills this year with a simple majority -- an argument that needs to persuade the Senate parliamentarian.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is exploring whether the budget reconciliation process Democrats used to pass their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill can allow for additional opportunities to advance their agenda with a simple majority of votes.

The Senate leader’s top policy aides have made that argument to the Senate parliamentarian, who oversees legislative procedure, according to a Schumer aide.

Democrats believe they can pass more reconciliation bills using Section 304 of the Congressional Budget Act, which allows Congress to “revise” its most recent budget resolution at least once.

The technical maneuver has never been done before and is sure to draw heated Republican opposition, since the process has previously been used only once per fiscal year. It would also set a precedent, allowing the GOP to do the same when they take the majority. 

The chances of Schumer’s gambit succeeding doesn’t only depend on the Senate parliamentarian, who already ruled against Democrats once last month by disallowing a minimum wage hike in their coronavirus bill. It would also require total unanimity within the Democratic caucus ― in particular, moderates like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have expressed a desire for bipartisan cooperation. 

Democrats already have another shot to pass a bill with a simple majority of the chamber ― with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaking vote if necessary ― by using the budget reconciliation process for fiscal 2022. They’re likely to need to do so for President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package, which he is expected to unveil this week.

But after that, their options become far more limited. Passing any legislation will require at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, meaning 10 Republicans must join with Democrats to do so. 

In general, the reconciliation process can only be used for measures affecting spending and revenue. An infrastructure package would fit those constraints, but little else on Democrats’ broad agenda, which includes climate change, voting rights, gun control and immigration.

“If we have to use reconciliation, we will, on certain parts of the bill,” Schumer told CNN last week when asked about Biden’s infrastructure proposal.