Schumer’s Infrastructure Path May Get Trickier After Ruling
(Bloomberg) -- A new ruling by the Senate parliamentarian could complicate the Democrats’ ability to use a fast-track budget process to enact President Joe Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda without Republican support.
The Senate rules official said last Friday that the fast-track budget process, known as reconciliation, can be used more than once in each fiscal year by revising a budget outline -- but also that there are limits on how that can be used, according to people familiar with the matter.
Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough said that to revise a budget resolution, such as the fiscal 2021 resolution used to pass the Covid 19 relief bill in March, the measure must go through committee and have floor amendment votes. That would make the process of revising a budget as time consuming as doing a fresh one. MacDonough also ruled that there must be a legitimate reason -- such as a new economic downturn -- for a revision, the people said.
The ruling makes it more likely Democrats will attempt a fresh fiscal 2022 budget to bypass Republicans if bipartisan infrastructure talks fail. It also likely restricts their ability to revisit that same budget later to pass additional fiscal initiatives. Democrats have talked of using a fiscal 2023 budget to expand Obamacare or cut drug prices.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last week said he plans to try to pass Biden’s infrastructure plan in July.
Biden is hosting the lead GOP negotiator, West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito at the White House Wednesday afternoon, as negotiations over a potential bipartisan infrastructure bill enter a critical phase.
Capito will continue to seek common ground with Biden at the meeting, though GOP negotiators have made clear their limits on what they could support in a package, a person familiar with the senator’s thinking said.
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference in Kentucky that he conferred with Capito Wednesday morning and that he’s “hoping for the best” that a deal can be struck.
The Senate parliamentarian ruled that a revised budget can have updated instructions for a fast-track bill and that there’s no limit to the number of revisions. However, the ruling says that revisions are intended to be only for extraordinary circumstances and says restraint is needed.
The budget also cannot be automatically discharged from committee by the presiding officer -- requiring debate and votes on the relevant panel. That in turn could allow Republicans to bottle up the budget in committee by denying a quorum.
Biden administration officials have urged that an agreement be reached soon, with Congress set to return next week from a recess. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Wednesday she remained optimistic about the prospects.
“The White House really wants this to be a bipartisan effort, and so we’re not willing to pull the ripcord” until “we really make sure that the Republicans are not willing to budge anymore,” Granholm said on CNN. “Everybody is testing out the other side to see who is earnest about wanting to get to a bipartisan vote,” she said.
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