The conventional wisdom around budget reconciliation, the filibuster-free process through which the Senate can pass budget-related legislation with 50 votes, is that you only get one per fiscal year--for a maximum of two per calendar year. The Senate Democratic majority already spent its reconciliation bill for fiscal year 2021 on the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and the idea has been that they could use a second one, pegged to the arrival of fiscal 2022 this coming October, on some kind of jam-packed infrastructure, care-economy, health care, and who-knows-what-else all-purpose bill. Since they don't have the votes to eliminate the filibuster altogether, these two bills would be their two big opportunities to enact their legislative agenda. Last week, however, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, who advises on the chamber's arcane rules, to examine another section of the budget law that allows for the reconciliation process. Section 304 of the 1974 Budget Act allows the Senate pass a resolution that "revises" the budget they've already passed.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., argues that the majority of the proposed package addresses'non-COVID' goals. A brawl is brewing between liberal and moderate Democrats. One can find evidence of this fight in the battle to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the latest coronavirus relief bill. The left failed in that effort. And despite having control of the House, Senate and White House, exclusion of the wage hike reflected the political realities of what progressives can do with a 50/50 Senate and a House with 221 Democrats and 211 Republicans. This doesn't bode well for progressive initiatives like gun restrictions, climate change legislation and immigration reform.
And possibly not ever, depending how serious you think Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema were when they announced this week that they would oppose any effort to blow up their chamber's antiquated, obviously destructive 60-vote threshold. Practically speaking, this means that if Democrats want to enact most of their agenda, they will have to rely on the somewhat byzantine and widely misunderstood process known as budget reconciliation, which prevents filibusters on certain kinds of legislation. Party leaders have already signaled that they will use it to move President Joe Biden's big coronavirus relief package if enough Republicans can't be convinced to back it, as well as infrastructure and climate legislation. Democrats are also looking for creative ways to stretch reconciliation's rules in order to pass priorities like a $15 minimum wage. Given that the fate of the Biden presidency likely hangs on the ins and outs of this parliamentary procedure (which, to be clear, is objectively absurd), you probably have a few questions about how reconciliation works. Here, as briefly as possible, is what you need to know.
Democrats hoping to increase the minimum wage in their COVID relief bill were handed a crushing defeat Thursday night. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough advised that the increase was not allowed in budget reconciliation legislation, the process Democrats are using to bypass a Senate filibuster on their COVID relief bill. MacDonough's decision was short and to the point, according to a Senate source. In her view, the budgetary impact of a minimum wage increase was "merely incidental" to its non-budgetary impact. That would make it a violation of the Byrd Rule, the statute with guardrails on what is and isn't allowed under reconciliation.
Sen. Mike Lee discusses COVID relief bill, Biden's cabinet nominations and Democrats trying to change nuclear launch authority away from the president. The Senate's chief parliamentarian ruled Thursday that a federal minimum wage hike should not be included in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, but that seemed to do little to deter House Democrats from pursuing the plan -- against impossible odds. In a statement obtained by Fox News, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough's decision "disappointing." Pelosi, like most Democrats, insisted that the wage-hike provision be kept in the bill and said it would "remain in the American Rescue Plan on the Floor tomorrow." Vice President Harris, as president of the Senate, can override the parliamentarian's ruling, but the move is considered unlikely.