Diary

Some People, Thankfully, Believe In The Legislative Process

“Budget reconciliation” is an important phrase for government wonks and it has a particular meaning in a parliamentary setting. In the Senate, items that are included as part of a budget reconciliation bill get placed on the fast track to approval because those items do not need to overcome filibusters to be voted on and voted into law. While the time limit for debate is oftentimes exceeded when omnibus packages are part of the reconciliation process, generally, debate for reconciliation matters is limited to only 20 hours in the Senate.

Seeing as how Senate Democrats are oh-so-close-but-not-quite-there when it comes to having the 60 votes necessary to invoke cloture and overcome Republican filibusters, budget reconciliation is a tempting way for Democrats to get around the sixty vote requirement and pass items on their wish lists without worrying about compromising in order to pick off Republican votes. Senator Barbara Boxer wants to put carbon emissions regulations into a budget reconciliation bill and pass the regulations more easily.

There is a problem with this approach, however. Only a certain number of items are supposed to be part of the reconciliation process. As the link above mentions:

. . . The Budget Act also maintains that reconciliation provisions must be related to reconciling the budget. For example, section 313 of the Budget Act, more commonly known as the “Byrd Rule”, provides a point of order in the Senate against extraneous matter in reconciliation bills. Determining what is extraneous is often a procedural and political quagmire navigated in part by the Senate Parliamentarian. The Byrd Rule and other points of order in the Budget Act may only be waived in the Senate by a three-fifths vote. Furthermore, the Budget Act prevents reconciliation legislation from being filibustered on the Senate floor.

Boxer and allies say “to heck with this” and itch to pass a non-budgetary carbon emissions package as part of the reconciliation process. But amazingly enough, a number of Democrats are standing up and saying “nyet”:

The group of Democrats who oppose the use of budget reconciliation rules to pass Boxer’s bill includes several senators who supported it last year.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said the legislation needs to be fully debated, especially since the debate on budget reconciliation votes is dominated by arguments over spending instead of the substance of legislation.

“If we don’t go through that process, then the best that happens is something is jammed [through],” Nelson said. “And I think these issues are so important that they need to be fully vetted and the place to do that is on the floor.”

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said he preferred the regular legislative process because it allows all members, including those in the minority, to shape legislation. Budget reconciliation votes are often rushed and are difficult to amend.

“We have to keep our perspective that the states have sent senators here to represent them and advocate for them,” he said.

[Senator Robert C.] Byrd [author of the aforementioned “Byrd Rule”], who helped block President Bill Clinton from attaching healthcare reforms to reconciliation bills, has signaled that he would oppose the use of the special process for major bills during the Obama administration. And Conrad, the Budget Committee chairman, said earlier this month that the minority’s rights should be respected because Democrats will find themselves out of power one day.

“Do we really want reconciliation to be used to override normal processes to pass sweeping legislation?” Conrad said during a committee hearing. “I’ve been against using it, but there are people who have a very different view.”

I suppose this signifies that the Senate Democratic Caucus is willing to go only so far in restricting minority rights. It should be remembered that a whole host of bloggers on the other side of the partisan divide are now actively campaigning to get rid of the filibuster; here is but one example. Given that Democratic Senators are not even willing to use reconciliation to get around the filibuster when it comes to certain items, it would appear that those bloggers are not going to have a lot of success with their campaign.

I would write something along the lines of “better luck next time” at this point, but I am really not in the mood.