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Why it matters that Schumer got the procedural news he wanted to hear

Given the state of the Senate, when doors that appeared closed are suddenly open, it's extremely encouraging.


In the world of online publishing, there's content known as "click-bait." The idea is to post overly provocative headlines and stories -- of dubious quality -- that entice online audiences, drive up pageviews, and impress advertisers.

No one would ever consider news about the Senate Parliamentarian and the budget reconciliation process as "click-bait." Indeed, you may have struggled to stay awake while reading the previous sentence. But the news from Capitol Hill last night, while seemingly dull, is likely to have an enormous impact on the nation and the economy in the near future.

The Senate's top referee on procedural matters ruled Monday that a revised budget resolution could potentially be used to pass another reconciliation bill, according to Senate Democratic officials. That could give Democratic leaders at least one more opportunity to pass legislation that could skirt a Senate filibuster, with Republicans already signaling that President Joe Biden's infrastructure and other proposals won't get the 60 votes needed to advance in that chamber.

As Rachel explained at the top of last night's show, nearly all legislation that reaches the Senate needs 60 votes to advance, but budget bills are an exception. Thanks to the budget reconciliation process, the majority can pass certain kinds of bills with 50 votes, circumventing filibusters.

Ordinarily, the Senate majority gets one opportunity to use this tactic. This year, because no budget resolution passed in 2020, Democrats were excited to get two bites at the apple instead of one.

Dems used the process to pass their American Relief Plan, overcoming Republican opposition to pass a popular and ambitious COVID relief bill, leaving the party with one more opportunity to use reconciliation to approve another top priority, such as an infrastructure plan.

But as we discussed last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his team, to their enormous credit, got creative. In fact, they came up with a new interpretation of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 -- another phrase one avoids in click-bait articles -- which they argued gave the majority party yet another opportunity to use the reconciliation process. Politico reported that Schumer and his team concluded that they'd uncovered "a magical parliamentary trick."

As the Roll Call article quoted above explained, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, whose job it is to resolve procedural disputes, announced yesterday that Team Schumer was right. The majority leader's "magical parliamentary trick" is legitimate.

And why should regular people care about such legislative trivia? Because bills that can circumvent Republican filibusters are the only ones that can pass. President Biden is eyeing a two-part infrastructure plan, for example, and if his party can use the reconciliation process twice this year, it means both parts can pass whether GOP senators like it or not.

To be sure, there are some caveats to the news. For one thing, Schumer's office acknowledged last night that "some parameters still need to be worked out" about how the tactic would next be implemented.

For another, there are all kinds of important priorities -- voting rights, gun-massacre-prevention bills, et al. -- that simply cannot be considered under the budget reconciliation process. Proponents of such measures will need to continue to push for filibuster reforms if those measures have any chance of success.

But given the state of the Senate, when doors that appeared closed are suddenly open, it's extremely encouraging. The developments do not guarantee success, but they help move Democrats a big step away from failure.