Times Standard (Eureka)

Senate gives Biden a big tool to work around GOP filibuster

- 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 gamechange­r. 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 very 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 seasoned policy wonks on Capitol Hill are digging deep into the procedural toolbox to find ways around the gridlock that typically leaves Congress at a standstill.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell 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 the 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 $2.3 trillion 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.

 ?? TIMOTHY D. EASLEY — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., addresses the media at a COVID-19vaccinat­ion site in Lexington, Ky., on Monday.
TIMOTHY D. EASLEY — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., addresses the media at a COVID-19vaccinat­ion site in Lexington, Ky., on Monday.

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