In the last issue of The Knight News, we published an article titled “Understanding the Filibuster”, where we broke down the filibuster and the debate raging over whether Democrats, who currently control the Senate, should invoke the “nuclear option” and abolish the filibuster to pass legislation such as President Biden’s infrastructure plan. Since then, a major development occurred where Senate Parliamentarian, the “judge” of the Senate, Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that another two bills can be passed through reconciliation this year. Reconciliation is a process created in 1974 where certain budget-related bills can be passed by a majority vote, avoiding the three-fifths vote rule normally needed to avoid a filibuster.
For Democrats, this move is momentous. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader and NY Senator, Chuck Schumer called this ruling an “important step forward” adding, that “While no decisions have been made on a legislative path… and some parameters still need to be worked out, the Parliamentarian’s opinion is [a]… key pathway available to Democrats if needed.” This decision, in theory, would allow the Democrats to pass Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan and perhaps even another stimulus or infrastructure package, which previously were considered items requiring a highly unlikely filibuster-proof three-fifths vote. It’s important to note however that reconciliation isn’t a magical loophole for the majority party in the Senate to use. It can only be used for items deemed relevant to the national budget so significant bills related to voting rights and the $15 federal minimum wage cannot be passed in this matter.
As much as this ruling by the Senate Parliamentarian makes the prospects of Congress passing an infrastructure bill more likely, it’s by no means smooth sailing to do so. For one, the reconciliation process itself is quite grueling. Any of the one hundred senators can propose amendments to require a roll-call vote on, among other delaying procedures done by members of both parties, in an attempt to shape a bill to their liking or kill the bill entirely. This scenario is known as a “Vote-O-Rama”. These sessions can last for hours such as what happened in early March during voting for the COVID relief package. It lasted for over 24 hours, taxing everyone involved and stalling businesses in need of financial relief by Congress.
Besides, it’s not even clear whether Democrats can muster the needed fifty of their senators for passing another reconciliation package or two. For example, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) who is on record as being opposed to abolishing the filibuster, stated in a Washington Post Op-Ed that, “I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate.” Additionally, Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema, proven to be a more moderate wild card among the Democratic party ranks, is also on the record as being opposed to the filibuster, leaving her a question mark as to whether she’d support further reconciliation legislation.
What happens now? It remains to be seen how Sen. Schumer and the rest of the Democratic party play this new card they’ve been dealt and how the Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) respond to this unexpected development. The decisions they, as well as Manchin and Sinema, make in the coming weeks will have a profound effect on this country for years to come.