Democrats Get a Big Boost in Bid for More Spending Bills

Democrats Get a Big Boost in Bid for More Spending Bills

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Democrats in the Senate won a technical procedural victory on Monday that could open the door to billions more in spending this year.

Budget reconciliation, which allows the Senate to pass bills related to spending and taxation with a simple majority, can be used more than once per fiscal year, according to a decision by the Senate parliamentarian.

The ruling gives Democrats more options for passing spending bills — potentially including parts of the $2.3 trillion infrastructure package President Joe Biden unveiled last week — by allowing the Senate to reopen the previous reconciliation bill passed in February and add new instructions, avoiding the 60-vote minimum required for most legislation in the upper chamber.

The parliamentarian’s decision has far-reaching implications for how the Senate operates. “The guidance could substantially weaken the filibuster by allowing the majority party to use budget reconciliation — a powerful tool that allows measures related to taxes and spending to pass on a majority vote — multiple times in a single fiscal year,” Emily Cochrane of The New York Times wrote. “That would dilute the power of the minority to stall or block such legislation in the Senate, the latest bid by the party in power to chip away at the arcane filibuster rules.”

It's not clear if or how Democrats will use the new procedural option, but a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who brought the issue to the parliamentarian, said the ruling “allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues.”

Still, the decision is not a cure-all for Democrats, who still need to confront divisions within their own caucus. But it does potentially reduce the effectiveness of Republican opposition. “It’s important because it gives us a little more flexibility — we don’t have to push everything into one package,” Budget Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told MSNBC, while highlighting the issues he wants to address. “The ruling of the parliamentarian gives us a little bit more opportunity in that direction.”

The bottom line: Democrats now have another option for passing the kind of large-scale programs that President Biden has called for, but the procedural win doesn’t eliminate many of the essentially political constraints. In a note Tuesday, Goldman Sachs analyst Alec Phillips said that while the parliamentarian’s decision could allow Democrats “to pass a variety of fiscal initiatives separately, rather than one large bill,” maintaining unity on complex issues could still be a challenge: “the constraint on multiple reconciliation bills was not procedural, it was political, and the political disadvantages haven’t changed,” he said.