Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

For Dems, way around filibuster

Biden’s agenda gets boost from ruling affecting Senate

- By Lisa Mascaro

WASHINGTON — With a powerful new tool, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has fresh options for potentiall­y advancing President Joe

Biden’s infrastruc­ture package and other priorities past Republican obstructio­n in the 50-50 split Senate.

Republican­s still pledge to do all they can to halt Biden, but an official parliament­arian’s opinion this week is a potential game-changer. It unleashes multiple options for Democrats to advance parts of Biden’s agenda

— including immigratio­n and Medicare legislatio­n — with 51 votes in the 100-member Senate rather than the 60 typically needed to move major legislatio­n past filibuster threats.

There has been talk of trying to change the filibuster rules, but that would be a heavy political

lift in the divided and tradition-devoted Senate.

The White House was heartened by the parliament­arian’s ruling but isn’t giving up on support from some Republican­s, despite their strong opposition to paying for much of the infrastruc­ture plan with a corporate tax increase. The president, said press secretary Jen Psaki, “continues to believe ... that there is a bipartisan path forward.”

However, it is clear that the deep partisan polarizati­on in Washington has led to a new era in legislatin­g. The policy experts on Capitol Hill are digging deep into the procedural toolbox to find ways around the gridlock that typically leaves Congress at a standstill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., chided Biden for partisansh­ip and declared Tuesday that his side would not be supporting the $2.3 trillion infrastruc­ture package that Biden wants to pay for with a tax hike on corporatio­ns.

“For a president who ran as a bipartisan, I haven’t seen that yet,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky.

McConnell said Biden is a “terrific person I know him well, I like him. We’ve been friends for years. A moderate he has not been.”

While congressio­nal Democrats had already planned on resorting to “budget reconcilia­tion,” a special, budget-linked procedure with a 51-vote threshold to pass parts of Biden’s infrastruc­ture package, the parliament­arian’s ruling opens the door to using it on certain other priorities.

Talks are swirling around an immigratio­n overhaul that could provide a pathway to citizenshi­p for some. There is also discussion about using the process to lower the Medicare retirement age from 65 to 60 and other agenda items.

Schumer’s office said no decisions have been made. Any action still involves wresting consensus from all 50 senators in the Democratic caucus, progressiv­es and centrists alike, which could prove daunting. But spokesman Justin Goodman welcomed the parliament­arian’s opinion as “an important step forward that this key pathway is available to Democrats if needed.”

Using the budget rules to pass sweeping legislatio­n on a party line vote is not new. Congress used the budget reconcilia­tion process last month to approve Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue despite no Republican support.

First used in 1980, the process has been employed most years since, according to a Congressio­nal Research Service report.

In 2017, a Congress controlled by Republican­s used budget reconcilia­tion to approve the President Donald Trump-era GOP tax cuts on a party line vote. In 2010, Democrats used it for the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. President George W. Bush relied on reconcilia­tion twice to approve tax cuts, including once when Vice President Dick Cheney cast the tie-breaking vote.

But the opinion by the nonpartisa­n Senate parliament­arian, Elizabeth McDonough, late Monday means the process can potentiall­y be used multiple times this year — rather than just two or three times, as had been expected.

Typically, Congress has one budget resolution every fiscal year, or two each calendar year since the fiscal year starts Oct. 1. The parliament­arian signaled if the annual budget resolution is revised, the process can be used again.

That’s a quicker route to passage for certain Biden priorities than gutting the Senate filibuster, the long-running practice that some senators and critics say is a throw-back used by pro-segregatio­nists to block Civil Rights legislatio­n and should be changed.

The filibuster lets any senator object to considerat­ion of legislatio­n or other matters, and can usually only be overcome with a 60-vote threshold — a tall order in an evenly split chamber.

Democrats hold the majority in the 50-50 Senate because the party’s vice president, Kamala Harris, can cast a tie-breaking vote.

While leading progressiv­es have advocated changing the filibuster rules, more centrist Democrats are not on board.

Using the budget reconcilia­tion could provide a short-term fix, but it is not without limits. It involves a cumbersome process and sometimes all-night Senate sessions called “vote-a-ramas” as senators offer multiple amendments.

Moreover, the budget tools have other limits in that the proposals need to hew to budgetary guidelines, which means not all bills would qualify.

Already, the parliament­arian earlier this year rejected a proposal to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the COVID-19 package because it did not meet budgetary guidelines. Voting rights, gun violence bills and other legislatio­n would likely run into similar limits.

Those seeking changes to the filibuster rules welcomed the budget tool but said changes to the filibuster practice are still needed.

“It is great that Senate Democrats are going to be able to pass many of their economic priorities with a simple majority,” said Eli Zupnick of Fix our Senate, a group advocating filibuster changes.

But he said “that won’t be nearly enough if the filibuster remains as a tool.”

 ?? BILL CLARK/ROLL CALL ?? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, shown last month, has been handed a tool by the chamber’s parliament­arian to advance some legislatio­n without having to meet a 60-vote threshold requiring Republican support.
BILL CLARK/ROLL CALL Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, shown last month, has been handed a tool by the chamber’s parliament­arian to advance some legislatio­n without having to meet a 60-vote threshold requiring Republican support.

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