Why the Senate Parliamentarian Budget Reconciliation Approval is a Big Deal

Why the Senate Parliamentarian Budget Reconciliation Approval is a Big Deal

Any comedy lovers and fans of stand-up comedians know that the number one rule of improv, or “improvisation,” is to say yes.

The United States Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough is doing her best improv impersonation by saying yes (again) to Senate Democrats in their quest to use the budget reconciliation to try and pass President Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan more easily.

Budget reconciliation may be the next “nuclear option” showdown in Congress and a big one at that.

What makes budget reconciliation so important is that Democrats would only need 50 votes to bring bills to the floor and vote, instead of the normal 60 votes required by the Senate filibuster.

While there specific rules about what a bill can include using the budget reconciliation process, the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan last month showed how much is possible to accomplish using this procedure to pass a bill.

It could potentially mean that Democrats can run the table on massive public policy changes like the American Jobs Plan through the guise of budget reconciliation.

Despite the “greenlight” of budget reconciliation, many are wondering what the definition of “infrastructure” really is under the $2 trillion Biden plan.

ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos recently questioned U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on the lack of traditional infrastructure funding in the plan , “You just heard Senator Blunt right there said, if you really focused on core infrastructure, you might have a chance of passing this. And it is true that only about 5 percent of this bill goes for traditional roads and bridges. You’ve got 20 percent caregiving for the elderly, about 13 percent for investments in — in like the Green New Deal. So why not focus on that traditional core infrastructure?”

Buttigieg responded by telling Stephanopoulos that the definition of infrastructure has changed; it includes replacing pipes, expanding broadband, and electric vehicle charging stations.

Many of the questionable provisions under the American Jobs Plan may not get much more than a passing soundbite as it is passed into law. Biden’s claim that the plan will create 19 million jobs in ten years is a bit of a headscratcher as is the inclusion of Medicaid expansion.

Whatever proposals fail to make it into the American Jobs Plan will be added into the second part of the plan that the White House plans to announce in the coming weeks. According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, that includes “creating economic security for the middle class through investments in child care, health care, education and other areas.”

Looking back at the Senate Parliamentarian’s ruling, former Rep. Will Hurd brought up a great point about “Senate Parliamentarian whiplash” if conservatives take back Congress in 2022 in a recent political podcast.

I’m convinced that the budget reconciliation approvals by Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough this year will become a de-facto nuclear option for lawmaking in the coming years.

MacDonough has served in the non-partisan role since 2012 under Republican and Democrat administrations and acts as official advisor and interpreter of the Senate floor rules and procedures. The House has its own parliamentarian to weigh in on their procedures, too.

Interestingly, all the debate about banning the Senate filibuster has largely been muted thanks to the use of the reconciliation process. The only wrinkle for Democrats may be any rulings by MacDonough that exclude proposals in the American Jobs Plan under budget reconciliation, similar to the removal of the minimum wage increase that was axed from the American Rescue Plan.

For now, expect Biden and company to push through their public policy agenda using reconciliation. Despite President Biden’s good guy demeanor and wanting to bring back bipartisan negotiations and political deal making, the White House won’t think twice about passing the American Jobs Plan, or any other one, as long as they have budget reconciliation for cover.

As Biden once quipped more expletively to President Barack Obama, “This is a big deal.”

Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager for PRI.

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Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.