Law Expert: Democrats could use budget reconciliation to pass infrastructure priorities

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 10:37 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - President Biden is hitting the road to promote his sweeping infrastructure plan. He’ll travel to New Orleans and Lake Charles Thursday for another leg of his “Getting America Back on Track Tour.”

The President’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan would rebuild roads and bridges, bolster public education, while slowly shifting the nation to greener energy. It would be funded by raising the corporate tax rate.

As negotiations continue on Capitol Hill, Congressional Republicans say they are concerned about the cost.

“We just borrowed two trillion from our grandchildren,” said Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) “Why do we need to borrow another 2 trillion.”

Democrats, meanwhile, say they are ready to move forward.

“We can unite this country behind an ambitious infrastructure, jobs, and clean energy program,” said Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.)

According to Georgetown Law Professor Caroline Fredrickson, there might be a way for Democrats to pass some of their priorities without bipartisan support.

As Democrats control the majority in the U.S House of Representatives, Biden’s infrastructure plan will likely snag in the U.S Senate. That’s because of the Senate filibuster and the Senate cloture rule, which require 60 votes to move legislation to a vote.

The U.S Senate is split evenly among Democrats and Republicans. Democrats have a slight majority with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as tie-breaker.

Fredrickson says certain pieces of legislation can be considered without facing the filibuster. It’s called budget reconciliation and it was used recently to pass the American Rescue plan. Under this special rule, a bill can pass with a simple majority in the Senate if it relates to the budget.

It’s up to the Senate parliamentarian, a non-partisan rule expert, to decide what qualifies, but historically, it’s only been used once per fiscal year.

The Senate parliamentarian recently greenlighted a strategy that would allow Democrats to advance some bills with a simple majority, rather than the typical 60 votes typically needed. The so-called budget reconciliation rules can now be used more often than expected — giving Democrats a fresh new path around the GOP blockade.

Fredrickson says Democrats might decide to split the package into parts; to get bipartisan support for the targeted areas of infrastructure and attempt to use the budget reconciliation process on the rest.

“They’re going to have to take pieces to the parliamentarian and get a ruling on whether each piece can pass muster,” said Fredrickson. “So, I think they’re going through that now with the White House and trying to figure out which pieces they want to move forward.”

Fredrickson says moderate Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), are quickly gaining influence in how this infrastructure plan pans out.

“That means you can’t have anybody going over to the other side,” she added. “You need everybody on your team.”

Copyright 2021 Gray DC. The AP contributed to this report. All rights reserved.