Parliamentarian’s Ruling on Reconciliation Sparks Confusion



Confusion abounds in Congress after the Senate parliamentarian ruled the chamber’s Democrats can use reconciliation several times in one fiscal year to bypass the filibuster and push through partisan legislation.

Politico noted that not all the lawmakers fully understand the reasoning behind the ruling. And even some congressional aides and budget experts have been left scratching their heads.

In the immediate, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough’s ruling this week on the reconciliation issue means President Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan could be treated as a revision of budget legislation. This would bypass a Republican filibuster requiring the measure attain 60 votes to pass, rather than a simple majority of 51 votes — which is easier for Democrats to achieve in the evenly split Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris yields the tie-breaking vote. 

But several of the infrastructure plan’s provisions, such as a clean energy standard, could have to be removed or amended before final legislation would be allowed to pass via reconciliation, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The infrastructure measure is unlikely to pass under the usual 60-vote threshold that is required for most legislation since Republicans oppose potential corporate tax increases among other provisions in the bill. Even with reconciliation, the bill, as written, may have difficulty in passing even a party-line vote, as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., does not approve of an increase in corporate taxes to fund it, either.

And a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., while touting the parliamentarian’s ruling, admitted “some parameters still need to be worked out.”

Politico noted the parliamentarian’s decision could clear the way for Democrats to have at least three more chances to guide bills past GOP opposition before the midterm elections — without trying to kill the filibuster.

Ardent liberal Democrats have been pressing hard to end the Senate filibuster, but they still don’t have the full support of those in their caucus.

Democrats have invoked “Jim Crow” as a means to discredit the filibuster, a tactic which allows for endless debate to stall legislation that was first enshrined in Senate rules in 1917. Prior to that, the Senate had no rules to end debate and the chamber installed a 67-vote threshold to create one. That was reduced to 60 in 1975.

The parliamentarian’s ruling has caught the attention of Washington, D.C. — even if there’s still some debate about what it actually means.

Zach Moller, deputy director of economics at the think tank Third Way, told Politico that when he first heard about the ruling, he thought: “‘Oh, OK, this is a big deal.'”

Moller added: “And then I reread it and saw there are things that have to get worked out. And then I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t really know what this means anymore.’ … Clearly this has sparked some debate.”

And Senate aides said it isn’t clear what legislative priorities would be allowed under the parliamentarian’s decision.

“The parliamentarian’s opinion was a significant development but certainly not a panacea,” said one senior Democratic aide. “Democrats will continue to have discussions and explore potentially using this tool in the most effective way possible.”


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