The Senate Democrats just got some shaky procedural news that is having some pretty big impact on President Joe Biden's agenda.
On Monday evening, the Senate MP – an in-house rules expert – decided that Democrats would be able to pass a third budget vote this year. This is a massive development that gives lawmakers more room to pass laws without Republican support.
Democrats have already had the option of doing two budget reconciliation invoices: one for fiscal 2021 and one for fiscal 2022. Unlike most other bills, budget measures can be passed with just 51 votes instead of 60, which means Democrats are able to put in the legislation they want when all 50 members of their caucus are on board. (For example, the American bailout allowed 50 Democrats to approve the $ 1.9 trillion package as part of the fiscal 2011 budget, even though no Republicans supported it.)
"The MP has indicated that a revised budget resolution could include instructions on how to vote on the budget," a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. "This confirms the Führer’s interpretation of the Budget Act and gives the Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican disability persists."
With the new decision by MP Elizabeth MacDonough, Democrats can now pass a third budgetary vote, which means they can impose more ambitious measures as long as they relate to taxes and spending. The decision is based on MacDonough's interpretation of Section 304 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which allows the legislature to revise a budget resolution before the end of the fiscal year in question. Based on their decision, the Democrats can now edit the already passed budget resolution for 2021 and add instructions for another bill.
Schumer's spokesman also noted that "no decisions have been made on a legislative path using Section 304 and some parameters have yet to be worked out".
The budget vote has its limits: it cannot be used for measures like proxy reform or gun control, but it is still a helpful tool that the Democrats have already used to give a huge boost to the child tax credit, improved unemployment benefits, and others achieve round of stimulus tests.
Democrats now have another opportunity to advance parts of their agenda that Republicans would otherwise block. And the decision to push for a workaround shows how limited the Democrats' other options are to get their agenda off the ground.
Democrats rely on budget balancing in the face of disagreement over the filibuster
The Democrats' efforts to get the most out of the budget vote underscore the political context in which they operate: namely, their increasingly fewer opportunities to pass ambitious laws.
If the Democrats eliminated the legislative filibuster, all bills could be passed with 51 votes instead of 60, eliminating the need to rely so heavily on budget voting. While more and more Democrats seem open to at least changing how the filibuster works, the caucus doesn't have the votes it needs to get rid of it. With moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) strongly opposed to terminating the rule, it is unlikely that this will change in the short term, which means that most bills will need 60 votes to be to adopt.
To reach that threshold, Democrats will need to convince 10 Republicans to join most of the measures. That outcome is becoming increasingly unlikely for many of the party's more ambitious bills. (In terms of coronavirus relief, for example, the Republicans opening offer was about a third of what President Joe Biden proposed.)
In calling for Section 304 to be reinterpreted, the Democrats seemed to be looking for other ways to get legislation passed if those in the caucus opposed to the filibuster's removal did not budge.
Now they have an extra shot.
Infrastructure could be the next Democratic budget vote bill
The Democrats' attempts to clear the way for another budget bill also coincide with Biden tipping a $ 2 trillion infrastructure and employment package and proposing to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent in order to pay for it.
The government appeals to Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress, but the prospect of a bipartisan bill looks poor. In particular, Republicans oppose the tax hikes, as well as some provisions of Biden's plan that go beyond roads and bridges.
The parliamentarian's decision offers more opportunities and chances to use the reconciliation to pass their priorities with 51 votes. Biden is expected to soon announce another package that deals with childcare and health care. While final decisions have not yet been made on the process and how these plans will merge into one draft budget, the Democrats could theoretically split Biden's infrastructure plan and its upcoming childcare and health care plan into two different reconciliation drafts – one in the amended 2021 resolution and the rest in set the resolution in 2022.
There is another option: Democrats and Republicans could pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill that deals more closely with roads and bridges, and then the Democrats and the Biden administration put their remaining priorities into a budget vote bill. Relevant House and Senate committees are currently working on a re-approval of land transportation bill that will be presented every five years.
The five-year reauthorization laws deal fairly closely with repairing roads and bridges, and the Republicans on the committees believe that the reauthorization law should be bipartisan.
“Our committee unanimously reported on laws to rebuild our country's water systems. This shows that the infrastructure can and should be run bipartisan, ”Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the senior member of the Senate's Environment and Health Committee, said in a recent statement.
However, the White House views its plan as a complement to anything Congress itself is doing about infrastructure. Biden has proposed $ 621 billion for spending on roads and bridges, rail and public transportation, and airports and ports in the country.
"All elements of the plan reflect additional investment on top of existing programs and agencies," one administrator told Vox. "In terms of transportation infrastructure, the plan provides an additional approximately $ 600 billion over the five-year budget, assuming the FAST Act funding level for land transportation programs is expanded directly."
The next few months of negotiations between the White House and Congress will determine a lot about how big and bold an infrastructure bill will be. But no matter what, the budget vote will play a prominent role.
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