Senate parliamentarian warns against ‘overuse’ of reconciliation process

According to the Washington Examiner, Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), pushed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill through the evenly divided upper chamber earlier this year using a process known as budget reconciliation. But after Dems floated the idea of using reconciliation to bypass compromising with the GOP on a number of other legislative packages, the Senate parliamentarian is finally saying no more.

The Examiner reports that Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough issued guidance Friday meant to stop Democrats’ abuse of budget reconciliation in its tracks.

Fast-tracking a bill?

Under the Senate’s standard rules, the agreement of three-fifths of the upper chamber is required to invoke cloture and end debate on a bill. Unless that threshold is reached, senators can continue to hold the legislation up via a tactic known as “filibustering.” This may involve prolonging the debate, continuously offering procedural motions, or using other techniques designed to run the clock out on a bill.

However, an exception exists when it comes to budget reconciliation resolutions, which are limited in the amount of time that they are open to debate and can be called to a vote through a simple majority.

As the House Budget Committee’s website explains: “Budget reconciliation provides a fast-track process for consideration of bills to implement the policy choices embodied in the annual congressional budget resolution.”

Not so fast

According to the Examiner, however, MacDonough declared in her newly issued guidance the budget reconciliation process is not intended to be used an infinite number of times.

The parliamentarian went on to warn against “overuse and over-reliance” on the procedure, which she said could “change the culture” of the Senate.

“The potential for abuse was clear in 1974 and is all the more obvious now,” she said, according to the Examiner.

“Overuse and over-reliance on a hyper-fast track procedure in the ordinarily deliberative Senate…will change the culture of the institution to the detriment of the committee and amendment processes and the rights of all Senators,” MacDonough added.

“Good judgment and restraint”

According to Roll Call, the parliamentarian goes on to suggest in her four-page opinion “that Democrats will get just one more try this year to pass a filibuster-proof legislative package to enact additional priorities ranging from infrastructure to immigration policy proposed by President Joe Biden and party leaders on Capitol Hill.”

“If they want to use reconciliation yet again, they’d need to adopt a fiscal 2023 budget resolution next year, but would likely get only one shot then as well,” Roll Call’s report added.

With that, it seems Democrats have been cut off by Senate staffers who don’t want to see the institution fall to pieces as Dems seek to push more and more radical legislation through to the president’s desk. If Dems want to continue to use reconciliation, MacDonough said, it “will depend on adherence to the original purpose of the section and the good judgment and restraint of all involved.”

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