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Parliamentarian gives Democrats potential new tool for reconciliation in early ruling

The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that Democrats may amend the budget resolution they used for their Covid-19 relief bill and attach another set of reconciliation instructions to it, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The ruling is a key step for Democrats as they weigh their options for moving infrastructure legislation, potentially giving them a route to pass new legislation without Republican votes. It’s important to note, however, that some details are still going to have to be worked out with the parliamentarian, and it was not immediately clear whether it could be used to pass President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.

The infrastructure plan — the White House’s next major legislative push — has garnered quick pushback from Republicans who have argued it’s too expensive and encompasses overly partisan programs. The immediate clash along party lines had prompted Democrats to explore revisiting the same arcane budget process they employed to pass Biden’s Covid relief package without any Republican support even before the President formally unveiled his proposal last week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s spokesman told CNN in a statement Monday that “the Parliamentarian has advised that a revised budget resolution may contain budget reconciliation instructions. This confirms the Leader’s interpretation of the Budget Act and allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues.”

“While no decisions have been made on a legislative path forward using Section 304 and some parameters still need to be worked out, the Parliamentarian’s opinion is an important step forward that this key pathway is available to Democrats if needed,” spokesman Justin Goodman said.

A Democratic Senate aide familiar with the parliamentarian’s ruling told CNN on Monday “there is no doubt that this was good news,” but cautioned that there will likely need to be more rulings before Democrats could move forward using the reconciliation process to advance the President’s infrastructure plan. “But there is still a great deal that needs to be worked out,” the aide said. “This was just the opening salvo in what will be a long and complicated process.”

Democrats had used the divisive procedural tool to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan last month by allowing lawmakers to bypass the 60-vote threshold typically required for breaking filibusters and moving legislation forward.

The reconciliation process was set up as part of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act to make it faster and easier to pass legislation related to spending, taxes and debt, because debate on the bills is limited to 20 hours and can be passed on a simple majority vote.

Still, Biden has said he would invite Republicans into the Oval Office at the White House and listen to their thoughts on his infrastructure proposal. “The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future,” he said in a speech unveiling his plan last week.

The President noted that infrastructure has historically been a bipartisan undertaking, but the issue of how to pay for the proposal is where the negotiations on Capitol Hill are likely to get sticky.

Billed “The American Jobs Plan,” Biden’s proposal would heavily invest in rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and shift to greener energy over the next eight years. The President plans to pay for his proposal by raising corporate taxes and eliminating tax breaks for fossil fuels, which was one of his core campaign promises.

The White House says this tax hike would raise more than $2 trillion over the next 15 years.

Sen. Joe Manchin, an influential centrist Democrat from West Virginia, warned earlier Monday that the Biden package can’t pass in its current form because he and a handful of other Senate Democrats believe the corporate tax hikes proposed in the bill — designed to offset its costs — are too steep.

“As the bill exists today, it needs to be changed,” he told West Virginia Metro News host Hoppy Kercheval in a radio interview.

Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement Monday: “I’m pleased by the parliamentarian’s ruling that budget resolutions can be revised, allowing us to consider moving additional bills through the reconciliation process.”

“The American people want bold action to address our country’s many challenges, and Democrats now have more options to overcome Republican obstruction and get things done.”

This story has been updated with additional information Monday.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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