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On Monday, an aide to Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer told the press that the Senate parliamentarian had issued a ruling that would give Democrats at least one extra shot at passing a bill with a simple majority under rules governing the budget-reconciliation process.
Typically, the Senate has been able to pass one reconciliation bill per fiscal year that isn’t subject to the usual 60-vote threshold for legislation in the Senate. The $1.9 trillion “COVID relief” bill that Congress passed in March was using the budget for fiscal year 2021 (which ends September 30). We already knew that, under usual practice, Democrats would get another shot this calendar year at passing a reconciliation bill for fiscal year 2022. But if Schumer’s spokesman is accurately relaying what the Senate parliamentarian has said, then Senate Democrats can go back and revise the already-passed fiscal year 2021 budget-reconciliation bill.
One big question — to which no one seems to have a definitive answer — is how many times the Senate can go back and revise it. Can they pass a reconciliation bill focused on infrastructure? And then one on health care? And another on the environment? And so on and so forth?
Again, it’s not clear. It’s also not clear that congressional Democrats would get much more by taking a piecemeal approach rather than by stuffing whatever they agree on in one big reconciliation bill.
But even if the Senate parliamentarian would effectively allow as many budget reconciliation bills as Schumer wants, Joe Manchin might not.
Schumer would almost certainly still need the support of every single Democrat in the 50-50 Senate to pull off a multiple-reconciliation bill strategy, but Manchin writes in a new Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday night that such a strategy would set a “dangerous precedent.”
“There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” Manchin writes. “If the filibuster is eliminated or budget reconciliation becomes the norm, a new and dangerous precedent will be set to pass sweeping, partisan legislation that changes the direction of our nation every time there is a change in political control. The consequences will be profound — our nation may never see stable governing again.”
The West Virginia Democrat just voted for a sprawling reconciliation bill in March — and he’s not saying he’s opposed to another one — but he seems to be dashing Democratic hopes of passing several separate reconciliation bills this year.