The news is a bit of a surprise, and it has major ramifications for what happens to the Biden administration’s legislative agenda: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office announced Monday that the Senate Parliamentarian has agreed that the budget reconciliation process can be used again this fiscal year.
Schumer had earlier promoted the theory that, under the Congressional Budget Act, a revision of a budget resolution could authorize a second reconciliation bill just like the first authorized in the original resolution. Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough has concurred. So, as a follow-on to enactment of the fiscal year 2021 budget resolution, and the reconciliation bill it authorized (a.k.a., Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief and stimulus bill), Congress can now pass a revised budget resolution and then a second reconciliation bill, perhaps encompassing some or all of Biden’s American Jobs Plan infrastructure proposal. Like the first reconciliation bill, the second can be passed by a simple Senate majority without the possibility of a filibuster — i.e., by Democrats alone, assuming they all vote together.
This also means that Biden and Democrats will have a third or possibly even a fourth bite at the reconciliation apple this calendar year, since once they are done with FY 2021 legislation (available to them because the last Congress did not pass a budget resolution at all), they can pass a FY 2022 budget resolution and presumably authorize a first, and then a second, reconciliation bill then as well.
All these reconciliation bills will be subject to MacDonough’s further review in terms of Byrd rule compliance, which means that popular progressive provisions outside the budget process could be excluded, just like the $15 minimum wage was excluded from the COVID-19 bill.
Still, the strategic flexibility this gives Democrats is enormous. There had been early talk of Biden needing to craft an infrastructure package amenable to Republicans so as to save the second and final reconciliation bill (for FY 2022) for health-care reform or some other administration priority. Given Republican opposition to both new taxes and new deficit spending, that was, to put it mildly, problematic. Now, so long as Biden can keep Democrats together, he need not worry about the filibuster, or about convincing ten Republicans to go along with some stunted version of his proposals. This, in turn, gives Biden a great deal of leverage with the GOP if he does want some symbolically valuable bipartisanship on subsequent legislation.
And if Democrats want to buck the conventional wisdom against enacting controversial legislation in an Election Year, they can come back in 2022 with a fiscal year 2023 budget resolution and then one or two reconciliation bills before facing voters in November of that year.
Too look at it another way, this new situation means even more power for Senate Democratic moderates like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — not as deal-making intermediates with Republicans, but as power brokers in their own right.
But dealing with troublesome Democrats will be far less difficult for Biden and Schumer than dealing with an obstructionist GOP. And for that change in the legislative atmosphere, Chuck Schumer deserves a lot of credit.