The New York Times reports on a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian on Monday that allows Democrats to “reuse this year’s budget blueprint at least once to employ the fast-track reconciliation process.” This gives Democrats the ability to amend the prior budget resolution to add new instructions that could, for example, contain Biden’s $2.2 trillion American Jobs Act.
This has several short-term and long-term implications. First, Biden could possibly slip not only the American Jobs Act into reconciliation but also parts of his caregivers’ bill set to be released in April. (Reconciliation cannot be used to address certain entitlement spending, such as Social Security, but changes to other entitlement programs such as Medicare could be included.) In other words, three large financial packages packed with key policy initiatives could get through with no GOP votes, thanks to the two Georgia Senate seat races that tipped control to the Democrats.
Second, each time the Senate sidesteps the filibuster, the argument for keeping the procedure weakens. The filibuster is hardly some impregnable barrier as some Republicans would have us believe. The logic of keeping it in place, say, to block voting rights legislation while sidestepping it to get trillions in new infrastructure is likely to elude many voters. Even Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) may find it hard to distinguish and preserve a Swiss cheese-like filibuster.
Third, voting rights advocates may be nervous that if Democrats resort to reconciliation too frequently, they might reduce the groundswell of support for nuking the filibuster. True, Manchin and other Democratic holdouts may be less likely to view the filibuster as a barrier to getting economic goodies for their constituents. But by the same token, yet another refusal by Republicans to negotiate a bipartisan bill, thereby forcing Democrats to shoehorn the infrastructure bill into reconciliation, might disabuse Manchin of the notion that the filibuster promotes debate and compromise. (It sure seems like a 50-vote requirement gives him extraordinary power to hold up and shape legislation.) Passage of another big bill could also add to Biden’s momentum, giving him plenty of political capital that can be deployed to figure out a work-around for the voting rights bill.
The parliamentarian handed Democrats a big win, but voting rights and other measures such as immigration reform still will remain outside the reconciliation process. The daunting task for Democrats to find 10 GOP votes to pass comprehensive voting reform (or even a slimmed-down version of voting rights) will not go away. As Jim Crow-style measures pile up in statehouses around the country and outrage builds over the assault on voting rights, Democrats will find it impossible to avoid the choice: The filibuster or voting rights? No parliamentarian is going to make that choice for them.