Democrats might not have the votes to gut the filibuster, but they were just handed the procedural keys to a backdoor assault on the Senate’s famous obstruction tactic.
With a ruling on Monday that Democrats can reuse this year’s budget blueprint at least once to employ the fast-track reconciliation process, Democrats can now conceivably advance multiple spending and tax packages this year without a single Republican vote, as long they hold their 50 members together. It is a means of weakening the filibuster without having to take the politically charged vote to do so.
Democrats insist that they have made no decisions about how to use the tool.
“It is always good to have a series of insurance policies,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, about the possibility that Democrats could duplicate last month’s party-line passage of the $1.9 trillion virus relief legislation, should they not be able to work out deals with Republicans.
But whatever strategy they employ, it is clear that the decision by the Senate parliamentarian to agree with Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, that a 47-year-old budget provision could be used more than once in a fiscal year widens President Biden’s path to enacting his infrastructure plan by shielding it from a filibuster.
It also means other Democratic initiatives could become filibuster-proof moving forward, and is already spurring creative efforts among lawmakers and activists to imagine other priorities that could be stuffed into reconciliation packages.
“I always would prefer to do legislation in a bipartisan way, but we have to get big, bold things done,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview. “And so we need to have as many options as possible if Republicans continue to obstruct.”
The filibuster — which takes 60 votes to overcome — remains an obstacle for many of the policies Democrats would like to enact, such as a sweeping campaign finance and elections measure as well as new gun laws. Centrist Democrats including Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are opposed to eliminating it, arguing that the supermajority requirement forces the kind of broad compromise that lawmakers should be seeking.
But the ruling means that if stymied by Republicans on plans that they can protect under reconciliation — which applies to measures that directly affect federal spending and revenues — Democrats will have more opportunities to move ahead on their own if they choose.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who had been hoping for an adverse ruling, said Democrats were being driven to twist the process by their inability to win Republican support for their plans and the fear that they will lose the majority next year. Republicans can be expected to put up as many roadblocks as possible to what they see as an attempt to exploit a loophole.
“This is a party that is going hard left, and they are audacious, and they are ambitious, and they will bend the rules and break the rules and rewrite the rules and do everything they can to get what they want as fast as they can,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview.
Both parties have used reconciliation in the past to push a variety of tax cuts and social programs into law, often over the unified opposition of the minority party.
Progressives who want to overturn the filibuster cheered the decision by the parliamentarian because of the possibilities it opened up for enacting Mr. Biden’s agenda. But some of them expressed concern that the ruling could sap momentum for the broader fight to eliminate the filibuster altogether, or push the Senate into a series of reconciliation battles that would leave behind the voting rights bill, known as H.R. 1, and other liberal priorities.
“The Parliamentarian’s ruling on reconciliation is great but doesn’t change the fact that Democrats must either end or reform the filibuster, or HR1 and other voting rights bills will die,” Adam Jentleson, a former Senate Democratic aide backing a filibuster overhaul, wrote on Twitter. “The ruling allows for more vehicles but doesn’t expand the scope of what they contain.”
The Arkansas State Legislature voted Tuesday afternoon to override a veto from Gov. Asa Hutchinson and enact a law banning gender-affirming treatment for transgender minors.
Mr. Hutchinson, a Republican, had vetoed the bill on Monday, calling it “overbroad” and “extreme.” The legislature voted overwhelmingly, 71 to 24 in the House and 25 to 8 in the Senate, to override him.
President Joe Biden: Live Updates on Filibusters, Vaccine Eligibility and Iran