The great divider, Donald Trump, is out of office. Now it’s time for healing. It’s time for unity. So sayeth the Democrats – despite having no use for unity for the last four years, as they did everything in their power to obstruct the agenda of a man they imagined to be Literally Hitler. Indeed, it is a time for reconciliation – but not between the parties.
The calls for unity from the Democratic denizens of the halls of power were never genuine; they are intended as a one-sided call – a warning, perhaps – to their ideological opponents to play ball and not do exactly what they did for an entire presidency. This truth is evident in the way Democrats forced President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus spending bill through the simple majorities of Congress using reconciliation to get around the Senate filibuster. But now the president wants two more big-money bills passed, and the Republicans aren’t playing ball. That almost all the Democrats are perfectly willing to bypass the GOP by way of reconciliation is a foregone conclusion. The question is: Can they pull it off two more times this year to greenlight Biden’s proposed $4 trillion in additional spending? The answer is a solid maybe.
Reconciliation Without Reconciliation
For those who aren’t familiar with the term: Despite sounding rather bipartisan, reconciliation has nothing to do with getting both sides to work together and everything to do with ignoring the minority entirely. That wasn’t always the case; in the beginning, it was intended as a tool to overcome partisan obstruction.
Reconciliation was created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. Each year, Congress passes a budget resolution. It can’t be stalled by filibuster and it doesn’t require the president’s signature. As the end of the year approaches, if Congress hasn’t met the goals laid out in the budget resolution, a reconciliation bill might be called for to reconcile the actual spending with the budget resolution. These bills do require presidential action, but they’re fast-tracked for success, requiring only a simple majority in each chamber of Congress. When a single party holds the White House and control of at least half of each chamber in Congress, any reconciliation bill is almost guaranteed to become law sooner rather than later.
However, because of the power of this method, there are limitations. Only policies that change spending or revenues can be included, debate time is limited, and only certain kinds of amendments can be made.
Byrd Is the Word
According to the Byrd rule – so named for Sen. Robert Byrd – Congress can’t include anything in a reconciliation bill that doesn’t change the outlays or revenues. Also forbidden is anything that worsens the deficit when a committee hasn’t reached its reconciliation target, lies outside the jurisdiction of the committee that created the bill, increases the deficit for any fiscal year outside the reconciliation window, produces a budgetary effect that is merely incidental to an otherwise non-budgetary policy change, or attempts to change Social Security. During the limited debate time, any senator may raise a point of order against any provision in the bill. The Senate parliamentarian will decide whether it’s a Byrd rule violation, and, if so, it’ll be removed.
Ostensibly this protects the minority party. In some limited form, it does – but it didn’t stop massive changes like Obama’s health care reform or the tax cuts of either Bush the second or Trump. In any case, whoever happens to hold the majority can ram their spending agenda through, leaving the other side not feeling very reconciled – and, yes, both sides do this with little regard for the will of the minority.
Hey Joe, Where You Going With That Tax Money in Your Hand?
President Biden recently revealed his great $2.3 trillion spending plan – part I, the American Jobs Plan, with part II, the American Families Plan, to come later with another $2 trillion or so dedicated to even more progressive programs. Liberty Nation’s Andrew Moran clearly showed where some of those billions would go and wondered if the Democrats would be eyeing reconciliation to make this happen.
Yes, they are.
“This is not going to be an infrastructure package,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said of the bill. “It’s like a Trojan horse. It’s called infrastructure, but inside the Trojan horse is going to be more borrowed money and massive tax increases on all the productive parts of our economy.”
That the bill will gain little to no Republican support is clear, but the Democrats aren’t about to allow that to get in the way of the defenestration of the taxpayer – or, at least, the taxpayer’s money. While Biden seems busy trying to figure out new ways to throw more of everyone else’s dough out the window, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is looking for a way to pass both parts through reconciliation. He can get one more, thanks to the fact that no budget resolution was passed this year, but the second will require some fiddling with the rules. According to a Schumer aide, that’s already a work in progress.
Biden and Schumer still have a couple of Democrats in the Senate – Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) especially – to convince. Manchin and several others have expressed disdain over how the minority party is being run roughshod over. Biden’s hopes and dreams of another $4 trillion in progressive spending might well come down to whether a small handful of Senate Democrats can be convinced to squash their ill will toward either nuking the filibuster or abusing reconciliation.
Read more from James Fite.