Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough is one of the few individuals standing in the way of the Democrats’ radical agenda and she’s making the most of her opportunity. On Tuesday, McDonough dealt a crippling blow to that agenda by ruling that Democrats could use the reconciliation process only one more time this session. The ruling means that as long as the filibuster is in effect, Republicans can block anything the Democrats introduce.
Indeed, historians and parliamentary experts had been in general agreement that the 1974 Budget Act only gave the majority party in the Senate two opportunities to use the reconciliation process per session, so McDonough’s ruling is hardly revolutionary. But Democrats were counting on at least two and possibly three more uses of the reconciliation process before the 2022 elections.
Forcing the Democrats to use the regular budget order means they will have to go through the complex and time-consuming process of getting approval from the appropriate committees and subcommittees and take to the floor for the amendment process. But Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was hoping to wrap up Biden’s agenda in two or three huge spending measures and throw in immigration reform and gun control. Democrats could have passed those bills by a simple majority — if they had been able to get all 50 of their members to vote for them.
The news comes as Biden said on Tuesday that June “should be a month of action on Capitol Hill” and that while pundits on TV may ask why he has not done more to pass his legislative priorities that it is because he “only has a majority of effectively four votes in the house and a tie in the Senate with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends,” likely referring to Senators Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.).
Press secretary Jen Psaki immediately tried to walk back Biden’s slap at Manchin and Sinema.
“I can tell you that sometimes these conversations can be oversimplified. TV isn’t always made for complex conversations about policymaking,” she said. “What the president was simply conveying was that his threshold, his litmus test is not to see eye-to-eye on every single detail of every issue and he doesn’t with Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin.”
“He believes there’s an opportunity to work together to make progress to find areas of common ground even if you have areas of disagreement,” Psaki said.
Manchin and Sinema are key to holding the line on the infrastructure bill. Manchin has said publicly that he won’t vote for an infrastructure bill unless it has substantial Republican input and backing. Senator Sinema has been less specific in her qualifications, but has indicated her reluctance to vote for any reconciliation bill. Together, they are a firewall against Biden and the Democrats’ radical proposals.
But what if, as expected, an effort is made to do away with the filibuster? Whatever else you can say about Biden, he is part of the Senate’s old guard, a traditionalist to the core. His support for the filibuster hasn’t wavered.
But the president has come under enormous pressure from his radical base and, specifically, the black community, which has made the voting rights bill a litmus test for racism. The bill will not make it through the Senate as long as the filibuster is in place.
But both Sinema and Manchin have come out against any reform of the filibuster. So Biden and the Democrats are stuck in neutral, unable to move forward with their legislative priorities as long as they can’t use reconciliation and as long as Manchin and Sinema hold the line.
Something will break this month. Either Biden will give the OK to ditch the filibuster and put the screws to Manchin and Sinema to get them to go along, or the radical mob will dust off their Molotov cocktails and go to war. Either way, it promises to be a very interesting summer.