by Emily Brooks
Democrats’ options to bypass the 60-vote threshold to overcome a Senate filibuster and pass legislation without Republican support just got more complicated.
Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough reportedly issued guidance to Senate staff on Friday that suggests Democrats could have another shot to pass a reconciliation bill, saying the framers of the modern budget process law did not intend the process to be used an indefinite number of times.
“The potential for abuse was clear in 1974 and is all the more obvious now,” MacDonough wrote, according to Roll Call, adding that “overuse and over-reliance on a hyper-fast track procedure in the ordinarily deliberative Senate … will change the culture of the institution to the detriment of the committee and amendment processes and the rights of all Senators.”
According to MacDonough, a budget reconciliation resolution, unlike a regular budget resolution, cannot be automatically discharged from the Senate Budget Committee without a markup — creating a problem for Democrats because the committee is evenly divided.
In April, the Senate parliamentarian issued guidance that made way for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass an infrastructure package through reconciliation, meaning he could do it on a party-line basis in the evenly divided Senate.
Earlier this year, Democrats circumvented a filibuster and used the budget reconciliation process to pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan without the support of any Republicans.
But until that clarification on guidance, it was widely thought that the process could be used only once per fiscal year. The American Rescue Plan accounted for the fiscal year 2021, leaving Schumer just one more opportunity to use reconciliation this year to affect the fiscal year 2022, which starts in October.
The April guidance opened up the possibility of numerous other reconciliation bills to bypass the filibuster, but Friday’s additional guidance from MacDonough appears to limit that.
The Senate parliamentarian was at the center of another key decision earlier this year when Democrats tried to push a $15 an hour minimum wage hike through the reconciliation process in the American Rescue Plan. She said that measure fell outside the scope of what is allowed under the process, violating the “Byrd Rule” that says any measures “extraneous” to the budget cannot be passed through the budget reconciliation process.