A recent ruling by Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough could force Democrats to alter their plans to use reconciliation to pass their infrastructure package, Punchbowl News reports.
According to Punchbowl’s sources on the Hill, the decision that MacDonough issued last Friday does allow Democrats to create more than one reconciliation bill during a single fiscal year, but it also requires them to cite a reason other than expediency, such as an economic recession, in order to use reconciliation. This could prevent Democrats from using reconciliation just to get bills passed by simple majority vote in an attempt to avoid having to surpass the 60 vote threshold that would prevent a Republican filibuster.
“Unlike the 301 resolution, a section 304 resolution is an optional procedure untethered to the Section 300 structure,” MacDonough wrote, according to The Hill. “There is no deadline for its reporting from committee or its completion in the Senate."
She noted that allowing the revisions to be automatically discharged from the Budget Committee would run the risk of “eroding the budget process,” and said that the panel could be releasing “meaningless, stop-gap measures or shells for future consideration.”
The parliamentarian wrote: “That kind of chaos was not at all what was intended with auto-discharge. Rather, the purpose of auto-discharge is to provide an incentive for committee compliance with the law and to provide a remedy when compliance with and through the mandatory processes of the [Congressional Budget Act] have not been met.”
She concluded, “Auto-discharge is not appropriate for a 304 resolution.”
Punchbowl notes that “In addition, Democrats would have to start the process from the beginning if they want to pass more than one reconciliation bill. That means going back to the House and Senate Budget panels, passing essentially new budget resolutions and bringing them to the floor. In the case of the Senate, this means a ‘vote-a-rama’ for each budget resolution. Democrats would be potentially exposing their vulnerable members such as Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire to tough votes on politically themed amendments offered by Republicans.”
Senate Democrats have yet to comment on the ruling or how it could impact their plans for infrastructure reform. One Senate Democratic aide, who was not identified, said that “We’re planning to move forward with infrastructure in July and [we're] weighing all the options.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., previously said that he hopes to pass infrastructure bills in July. The Hill reports that this ruling effectively limits Democrats to using automatic budget reconciliation one more time this year, with MacDonough deciding that a revision to the 2021 budget package must face a vote by the Senate Budget Committee, meaning that Democrats must win over at least one Republican to get it out of committee. This could force Schumer to decide between using reconciliation to pass either the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan or the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.
A spokesperson for Schumer said in April that MacDonough had advised the Senate majority leader’s staff that multiple revisions would be allowed, which the spokesman said was “an important step forward,” while noting that “some parameters still need to be worked out.”
They said: "The Parliamentarian has advised that a revised budget resolution may contain budget reconciliation instructions. This confirms the Leader's interpretation of the Budget Act and allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues.”
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