Biden can fight climate change, guarantee housing, and halve poverty — without the GOP

“That gives Biden two years to move — two years with a 50-50 Senate when he’ll be constrained by what moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are willing to vote for.

Still, Biden and his allies in Congress can accomplish an awful lot through a process called budget reconciliation. The Senate filibuster means that a bill typically requires 60 votes to move forward. With only 50 Democratic senators (plus tie-breaker Vice President-elect Kamala Harris), that’s a nearly insurmountable barrier. But the budget reconciliation process exempts certain legislation that primarily affects taxes and spending from the filibuster, meaning the 50 Senate Democrats can pass it on their own.”

“Not everything can pass through budget reconciliation. It likely rules out measures like a minimum wage increase, or DC and Puerto Rico statehood, or updates to the Voting Rights Act, or gerrymandering reform.

Still, it’s plausible that Biden and his allies in Congress can use budget reconciliation to accomplish large swaths of his agenda, including paid parental and sick leave, universal pre-K, a $3,000 child allowance, universal housing vouchers, a massive investment in clean energy, expanded health care coverage, and more.”

“what Biden can do — consensus items that most congressional Democrats agree on and have been campaigning on for years or decades — could nonetheless transform American life dramatically. An America where pre-K is universal and child care is affordable for all, with trillions in clean energy investment, free community college, paid maternity leave, a child allowance for parents, and a housing program that nearly eliminates homelessness, is a very different America. And it is in reach for the Biden administration.”

“The filibuster, a Senate practice developed in the mid-19th century, gives senators the power to delay legislation by either speaking indefinitely or (most often) merely threatening to speak indefinitely. Initially, there was no way to end a filibuster as long as the senator in question was committed to delaying; in the 20th century, though, the Senate developed the “cloture” rule, which allows a supermajority of senators, currently 60, to end a filibuster. Under the Obama and Trump presidencies, filibusters became so frequent that there is an understanding that all legislation supported by one party but not the other will need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and pass the Senate.

But there is a catch: In the 1970s, the Senate crafted a process called “budget reconciliation” that allows certain legislation to avoid a filibuster. It’s a major advantage that has unsurprisingly been used for lots of major legislation over the years: the 2017 Trump tax cuts and 2001/2003 Bush tax cuts, the 1996 welfare reform act, and the 2010 bill in which Obama and allies nationalized the student loan industry.

It also means that the 50 Democratic senators plus Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be able to pass some types of legislation, so long as all Democrats are in agreement.

However, reconciliation comes with profound limitations. It can usually only be used once per budget resolution, which in theory works out to one reconciliation bill a year. (Since Congress hasn’t yet passed a budget resolution for fiscal year 2021, Democrats could do two bills this year, one for 2021 and one for 2022; the details are a bit complicated, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ David Reich and Richard Kogan explain.)

Then there are the limits on what a bill passed under reconciliation can doimposed by the “Byrd Rule,” which offers a way for senators to raise an objection against “extraneous” provisions in bills being considered under reconciliation. If the Senate presiding officer (who has historically always acted on the advice of the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian) agrees, the provision is struck.

The basics of the Byrd Rule are that reconciliation bills cannot change Social Security, or have merely “incidental” effects on spending/revenue, or increase deficits after 10 years. There are a couple of other limitations as well, but those are the major ones. In other words, reconciliation can be used for spendingand taxing, but usually not for pure regulation or legal changes. If the main effect is not budgetary, it’s not reconcilable.”

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