Senate Parliamentarian Issues Ruling Allowing Democrats to Reuse Reconciliation - What Does it Mean?
How do you feel about the parliamentarian’s ruling?
by Causes | 4.7.21
What’s the story?
- Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough on Monday ruled in favor of an effort by Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process more than once per fiscal year to pass tax and spending legislation on party-lines while bypassing the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes in the Senate.
- The ruling affirmed that Congress can adopt revisions to an enacted budget resolution which include instructions to produce new legislation through the budget reconciliation process ― even if that budget resolution already produced a reconciliation bill.
- This means that rather than being limited to using budget reconciliation no more than once per fiscal year, a party that holds majorities in both chambers of Congress along with the presidency can use it as often as they want to enact fiscal policies while avoiding the Senate’s legislative filibuster.
- A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released a statement that, “This confirms the leader’s interpretation of the Budget Act,” but cautioned that “some parameters still need to be worked out” with how it can be used.
- While the ruling appears to have opened the door to repeated use of reconciliation for bills related to tax and spending, the budget reconciliation process consumes a significant amount of floor time in Congress which is likely to limit its use. This is particularly true in the Senate, where an open-ended amendment vote-a-rama occurs during consideration of both the budget resolution and the reconciliation bill itself.
- The parliamentarian’s ruling that budget resolutions can be recycled for new reconciliation legislation doesn’t modify other aspects of the reconciliation rules, which means policies with an incidental impact on taxes, spending, and/or the deficit (like the $15 minimum wage during the most reconciliation debate) are still considered non-germane and thus ineligible to bypass the legislative filibuster.
What are parliamentarians in Congress?
- The House and the Senate both have an Office of the Parliamentarian to provide expertise on questions related to the chamber’s procedural rules, precedents, and practices. All advice provided by parliamentarians is nonpartisan and confidential (to the degree that lawmakers and their staff want it to be).
- According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the House’s first official parliamentarian was appointed in 1927, while the Senate named its first formal parliamentarian in 1935. The House parliamentarian is appointed by the speaker, while the Senate elects its parliamentarian at the recommendation of the Senate majority leader.
- Parliamentarians provide advice to lawmakers, but their while their rulings reflect the status quo they aren’t technically binding on either chamber so lawmakers can vote to appeal and overrule them.
- Lawmakers ask parliamentarians for explanations of legislative rules and procedures during floor proceedings and off the floor before a bill is debated.
- During a House or Senate session, the chamber’s parliamentarian or one of their deputies is present on the floor. The House’s duty parliamentarian can be seen to the right of the presiding member, while the Senate’s is below the presiding officer’s desk. They prepare written guides to floor proceedings for presiding chairs to use in responding to anticipated motions or points of order, and can sometimes be seen talking to a presiding lawmaker who is unsure of how to respond to a situation.
— Eric Revell
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