The filibuster rule in the Senate threatens to curtail a number of legislative priorities for Democrats and President Joe Biden — but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) may have found a loophole to move some bills forward.
According to reporting from Politico, Schumer and other Democrats have recently met with the Senate parliamentarian, the official rule-keeper of the “upper house” of Congress, to discuss a little-known provision to the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. According to Section 304 of that law, Democrats are arguing, Senate can pass amendments to previous reconciliation bills with a simple majority vote.
It is unclear whether Section 304 imposes any criteria on amendments, and how many times Democrats can use Section 304. Another wrinkle: The decision on these questions rely upon the opinion of the Senate parliamentarian, who earlier this year ruled against Democrats when they attempted to include a raise in the minimum wage within the stimulus bill.
But if the parliamentarian agrees with the Democrats’ interpretation of Section 304, it opens up the possibility for a third chance this year — or even possibly additional opportunities beyond that — to enact more of their legislative priorities, without fear of a Senate filibuster, and without the headache of the politics behind amending or ending that practice altogether, including the need to get every Democratic senator on board with the idea of doing so.
As it stands right now, the filibuster requires at least 60 votes in the Senate in order to advance legislation for an up-or-down vote in that legislative chamber. With the Senate split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, the procedure currently allows Republicans to block any bills Democrats propose in that chamber, unless at least ten GOP senators agree to vote with them.
Reconciliation allows for filibuster to be bypassed, but only under certain circumstances — that rule, for example, can only be used once every fiscal year (which, for the federal government, begins on October 1 and ends on September 30). Democrats were able to use reconciliation for the recently-passed COVID economic stimulus bill, and they’ll be able to use the rule again at the beginning of October.
But for all other legislation, Republicans can use the filibuster to obstruct Democrats’ agenda for the remainder of 2021, leading many in the party to call for amending or eliminating it completely.