Progressives push controversial proposal on budget reconciliation

Progressive Democrats are pushing a plan to ignore the Senate parliamentarian if she rules policies such as raising the minimum wage can’...

Progressive Democrats are pushing a plan to ignore the Senate parliamentarian if she rules policies such as raising the minimum wage can’t be included in a budget reconciliation package.

Budget reconciliation allows legislation to move through the Senate on a majority vote, and it cannot be filibustered.

As a result, Democrats have been eyeing the budget process to get key items like a $15 per hour minimum wage to President Biden’s desk. Using the process would prevent Republicans from blocking a bill by ensuring one could pass with 50 Senate Democratic votes, and Vice President Harris breaking the tie.

The problem is another Senate requirement known as the Byrd Rule that requires policies like a minimum wage hike to meet certain requirements to qualify under budget reconciliation. 

A number of budget experts believe a minimum wage hike might not meet Byrd Rule requirements, and that the Senate parliamentarian could rule that it could not be included in a reconciliation package.

It’s not clear that’s the case.

Bill Dauster, who served as deputy chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidByrd Rule, politics threaten per hour minimum wage Harry Reid ‘not particularly optimistic’ Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader MORE (D-Nev.), published a Roll Call op-ed this week arguing that the $15 minimum wage bill Biden included in his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan had a chance to get the parliamentarian’s stamp of approval. 

But if the ruling goes against Democrats, he said the party should push it through anyway.

“In the end, this is a call the Constitution gives the vice president or, in her absence, the Senate’s president pro tempore to make,” he wrote, noting that the decisions would fall on Harris or Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPaul says Roberts’s absence ‘crystalized’ argument against Trump impeachment How McConnell derailed Trump’s impeachment trial before it started Leahy expected to preside over impeachment after health scare MORE (D-Vt.), the Senate president pro tempore.

“If the Senate parliamentarian does not advise them that Congress can include the minimum wage in budget reconciliation, Harris or Leahy should exercise their constitutional authority to say that it can,” he wrote.

The suggestions gained steam on the left after centrist Democrats such as Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variants spread in US; Redditors shake Wall Street with Gamestop stock Biden wants Democrats to keep Trump trial short Joe Manchin could show the Senate a better way forward MORE (W.Va.) and Kirsten Sinema (Ariz.) reiterated their opposition to killing the filibuster, which essentially requires major legislation to win 60 votes to get approval in the Senate.

“I think that the key here is that we’re going to keep every tool in the toolbox available,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalLawmakers grill NSA on years-old breach in the wake of massive Russian hack Former House GOP leader: Fear of telling ‘truth’ to voters led to Capitol riot Democrats ready to bypass Republicans on COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-Wash.) said when asked about the approach, adding she had been in touch with Senate colleagues about the possibility.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDemocrat calls for hearings to expel Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Lawmakers rip Robinhood’s decision on GameStop Robinhood faces backlash from both parties for limiting trades MORE (D-Calif.), a close ally of incoming Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variants spread in US; Redditors shake Wall Street with Gamestop stock Sanders baseball card of inauguration meme breaks sales record set by Fauci Bernie Sanders claps back at billionaire’s criticism: ‘Cry me a river’ MORE (I-Vt.), said Democrats should think big in terms of what can be in reconciliation.

“I personally think we ought to be getting rid of the filibuster, but at the very least we ought to be expanding reconciliation to apply to many more prospects,” he told The Wall Street Journal. 

Sanders, who will oversee the reconciliation process and has voiced skepticism over eliminating the full filibuster, has not offered an opinion on sidestepping a parliamentarian ruling. He argues raising the minimum wage would not run afoul of the Byrd Rule.

Democrats used a budget reconciliation package in 2010 to advance the Affordable Care Act, while Republicans used it in 2003 and 2017 to cut taxes.

In each case, the Byrd Rule dramatically affected the final legislation.

For example, elements of both the Bush and Trump tax cuts had a 10-year expiration in order to comply with Byrd Rule deficit requirements. Republican attempts to overturn Obamacare, which ultimately failed, were limited by what provisions were Byrd Rule compliant.
Ignoring Byrd would create a fight with Republicans in the Senate as Biden talks of working with the minority party to move legislation.

GOP senators warn it could set a negative tone for Biden, particularly with a divisive fight over Trump’s second impeachment trial set for February.

“I think you’ve got to be careful that you don’t start off in a very highly partisan way, because between impeachment and a reconciliation bill, particularly one where you ignore the rules of reconciliation, which people are talking about, I think you set a really bad tone, at least for months and maybe for the first term, the first two years at least,” Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variants spread in US; Redditors shake Wall Street with Gamestop stock The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Which path will Democrats take on COVID-19 bill? Democrats ready to bypass Republicans on COVID-19 relief bill MORE (Ohio), a retiring Republican who is engaged in negotiations over the COVID-19 bill, said in an NPR interview.

Democrats say they are merely keeping their options open.

“We have to be ready,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFBI: Woman arrested in Capitol riot allegedly said she wanted to shoot Pelosi ‘in the friggin’ brain’ Did Trump know what was about to happen Jan. 6? Marjorie Taylor Greene touts Trump call amid growing backlash MORE (D-Calif.) said Thursday of teeing up the budget reconciliation bill. 

The White House has made it clear it is very open to using budget reconciliation to prevent the filibuster from blocking COVID-19 relief.

“Our priority is on getting it through and not what the parliamentary process is,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiMenendez calls for sanction on Russia after Navalny protests Biden signs executive orders at furious pace Biden, Yellen call for swift action on coronavirus relief package MORE said Friday when asked about the possibility of sidestepping the usual reconciliation rules.

Many Democrats are open to using reconciliation, but ignoring the parliamentarian on the Byrd Rule would be more controversial.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats weigh expanding lower courts after Trump blitz Biden reignites immigration fight in Congress Biden immigration plans hit early snags MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. Democrats, he said, should ensure that any policy in a reconciliation bill could survive a Byrd Rule challenge, but hinted at some flexibility in the approach. 

“In the past the Republicans have changed some of the rules relative to reconciliation to accommodate their legislative efforts,” he said.

House Budget Committee Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthByrd Rule, politics threaten per hour minimum wage No. 2 Senate Democrat says minimum wage can be increased with simple majority vote Biden’s bipartisan push hits wall on COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-Ky.) said the move could open a can of worms Democrats would live to regret. 

“I’m not sure it’s the smartest thing to do,” Yarmuth told Politico. 

If Democrats push through a minimum wage hike, or decide to use the same procedure to pass voting rights legislation, health care reform, or environmental policy, Republicans could take the same approach when they’re in power.

“You do have to worry about precedent,” Yarmuth said.

Jordain Carney contributed.

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Newsrust: Progressives push controversial proposal on budget reconciliation
Progressives push controversial proposal on budget reconciliation
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