Democrats Want To Use Budget Reconciliation A Second Time. How Would It Work?

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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For a second time, Senate Democrats could implement President Joe Biden’s agenda with the budget reconciliation process by amending the 2021 budget, but the move is without precedent.

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled on April 5 that Democrats could pass President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package by using budget reconciliation, even though they already used the process to pass the American Rescue Plan. The terms of the budget reconciliation process are set out by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974.

The budget reconciliation process is triggered by the passing of a budget resolution by the House and the Senate. That resolution will assign specific dollar amounts to be raised or lowered by various committees, according to Brookings Institute. Once the resolution passes, Congress can pass legislation that directly addresses the specific dollar amounts.

Under Senate interpretations of the Congressional Budget Act, the upper chamber may pass legislation related to spending, revenues, and the debt limit with only 51 votes, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). However, “a budget resolution can generate no more than one bill addressing each of those subjects,” according to the CBPP. In practice, this means that Congress may only pass one budget reconciliation bill per fiscal year. Most budget-related legislation addresses all three at once, since a bill discussing spending will necessarily have to indicate where the money is coming from and how it impacts debt.

Congressional Democrats already used the budget reconciliation process on the American Rescue Plan, which passed in a pair of party-line votes. The process did prevent Senate Democrats from including a $15 minimum wage in the package after MacDonough ruled that a minimum wage hike was not directly related to spending, revenues, or the debt limit.

If Congressional Democrats amend the 2021 budget, they would then be allowed to pass a new bill under reconciliation rules, MacDonough ruled. Democratic Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin suggested that his party would try to do just that on March 15 during a hot mic moment. However, the move has never been tried before, according to the CBPP. (RELATED: ‘The Devil Is In The Details’: Bernie Sanders Defends ‘Reconciliation’ After Attacking GOP For Using It)

Republicans used the budget reconciliation process in a 2017 attempt to repeal Obamacare, but they could not garner the necessary votes. They successfully used reconciliation to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has expressed skepticism about using the reconciliation process a second time. “If the filibuster is eliminated or budget reconciliation becomes the norm, a new and dangerous precedent will be set to pass sweeping, partisan legislation that changes the direction of our nation every time there is a change in political control,” he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on April 7.