Please support this
holiday season!

Reconciliation Needs To Pass First

[ Posted Monday, June 21st, 2021 – 16:29 UTC ]

To an outsider, what is happening in Washington right now is splitting hairs for no particular reason. It won't matter to the public one whit whether what Congress passes to advance President Joe Biden's agenda is in one bill or two, or whether any Republicans vote for any part of it. The public is really only interested in results: "Did you get anything done? Are they things that will help me out?" That's it. And pretty much everything being discussed is wildly popular, proposal by proposal, so the public's going to support and enjoy seeing these programs implemented or expanded no matter what the vote count in the Senate or the House winds up being. Joe and Jane Public just do not care about any of that.

However, within the hallowed halls of Congress, this is all a very important big deal indeed. This is because two men, Joe Biden and Senator Joe Manchin, are obsessed with the concept of bipartisanship. They both really want a bill that at least 10 Republican senators can vote for. So they've both taken up an enormous amount of time to see whether that is even possible. The end result will be unveiled in a day or two, as the Republican side's final offer. Both sides have made known what their dealbreakers are, so assumably the final bill won't have any corporate tax hikes or increased gas taxes in the section on how to pay for it all. The total will be reported as "over $1 trillion" but this is all smoke and mirrors, as it will likely only contain somewhat less than $600 billion in new spending. But now that both sides are so close to an actual deal, the whole thing could fall apart. As perhaps it should.

Democrats, led in this case by Bernie Sanders (who now chairs the Senate's budget committee) have always been completely honest about their entire game plan: allow the negotiations to finish, pass the deal with a bipartisan, filibuster-proof majority, and then pass everything else in Biden's agenda in a separate budget reconciliation bill that will only require 51 votes (and can be done on partisan lines, if Manchin agrees). If the bipartisan bill doesn't pass, then everything within it will be added to the budget reconciliation bill. Either way, Biden's total agenda gets passed. That's been the plan all along.

However, there are now new fears that even this won't work. Because everyone expects the bipartisan vote to come first, with the reconciliation vote following afterwards. But this would mean that Democrats would have to take Manchin (as well as Kyrsten Sinema and possibly a few others) at his word that he was indeed going to vote for the reconciliation bill. He'll probably have some last-minute complaints and demand certain tweaks to it, but in the end he'll vote for it.

But now progressives aren't so sure. Do they have reason to worry? Well, you'd have to ask Manchin, and he's a master at being cryptic about what he will and won't support in the future.

There's another problem as well. Because now that a deal actually looks possible, some of the 11 Republican senators currently in the group holding negotiations with Biden and the Democrats are sounding awfully squishy on their own support, threatening that if Democrats do just push everything else into a second bill, then they wouldn't support the bipartisan agreement. Democrats, once again, have made absolutely no secret of their plan all along, so for Republicans to now act as if they are suddenly aware of the second bill is simply ridiculous.

Also, as many are now pointing out, the idea that one party gets this kind of say in a completely separate piece of legislation from the other party is just ludicrous. Republicans would be voting against a bill they agreed upon simply because Democrats were going to pass another bill? That's not exactly treating legislation on its merits, obviously. If the compromise deal is good enough for them to vote on, it should be good enough, period.

The way around this whole problem is for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to announce that even if a deal is reached on the bipartisan compromise (containing what Republicans deign to accept as "classic infrastructure" projects), the Senate vote on this deal will happen immediately after the budget reconciliation bill. Bernie Sanders can then write the whole bill and include everything Biden asked for in his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan except for the things in the bipartisan infrastructure deal. But the Senate should wait until Bernie's done with this and has produced an actual bill. By holding a vote on this bill first, there would be no question about Manchin's support and any last-minute bickering with him would happen before the bipartisan bill even gets to the Senate floor.

The whole idea of doing the bipartisan bill first was that then even if it failed, it could all be included in the partisan reconciliation bill (and would probably wind up being better, since Democrats wouldn't have to worry about what any Republicans thought about it). But while switching the order of the bills would remove that backstop, it might not be the worst thing in the world.

Switching the vote order solves the first problem, at least -- progressive nervousness over Manchin and Sinema (and any other Democrats who might object to the reconciliation bill). It wouldn't be in question, if they were forced to vote first on reconciliation, in other words.

It doesn't completely solve the other problem, but that is a problem entirely created by the Republicans. Their entire game plan -- which, unlike the Democrats, they have never actually publicly admitted -- could have either been to stall Biden's agenda forever and prevent any votes on any of it from ever taking place (they've certainly used this playbook successfully before), or to take all the best parts from Biden's agenda and pass them, leaving Democrats forced to hold tough votes on things like raising taxes on corporations and high income earners. Secretly, they hoped that divisions within the Democratic Party would have meant the reconciliation bill never successfully made it through the Senate. This is all speculation, I should add -- I have no actual proof of anything Republicans are thinking or plotting. But it seems pretty obvious.

By passing the reconciliation bill first, Democrats would be risking the 11 Republicans senators getting so annoyed (at seeing such legislative success for Biden) that they wind up voting against their own negotiated compromise bill. They would still have the power to tank this bill, and if they did so Democrats could not simply then pass the deal under budget reconciliation rules, since there's a "one bite at the apple" rule -- two such bills wouldn't be allowed.

This is the biggest risk -- the one part that was supposed to be bipartisan is the part that fails, while the partisan parts pass. But would that really be such a bad thing for Democrats? In the first place, everyone would know who was to blame -- the Republicans who made a promise and then refused to honor it when it came time to vote. That's a pretty easy case to make, politically. Democrats could hammer Senate Republicans for "sabotaging infrastructure investments in the future." And secondly, while they wouldn't be allowed another bite at the apple in exactly the same way, they would still eventually be able to get the programs passed. Republicans have been trying to convince everyone that there is this sacred thing called "an infrastructure bill" and that that is not only the only way to pass such things but also that they must be hypervigilant so nothing that doesn't fit their "infrastructure" definition sneaks in somehow. But this simply isn't true. There's nothing magical about an infrastructure bill, and any of the infrastructure ideas could be passed in (for instance) next year's budget. So Biden's agenda might be delayed, but in the end might wind up being signed into law anyway.

The only really tough thing in all of this is assuaging the hurt feelings of both Manchin and the 11 Republicans. Schumer will have to be careful not to be too blatant about why he's switching the order of the bills, because everyone will know anyway that this was necessary because Joe Manchin can't be trusted. And the Republicans will work themselves into a snit, but their explanation of: "We all thought if we passed this bill that Joe Biden would be happy enough with that and just absolutely give up on the rest of his agenda for the next two years, minimum." This is so ridiculous it staggers the mind, really.

But this seems like the best way forward, at this point. Get Manchin's reconciliation voted nailed down before the bipartisan bill comes up, and there won't be anything for progressives to worry about. If the Republicans throw a hissy fit, Biden and the Democrats should just say to them: "You were the ones who wanted to do infrastructure in this fashion, you went back on your word, and now you can go explain to your state's constituents why they're not getting that new bridge or freeway. Because, come election time, your opponent will indeed be pointing that out to the voters."

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


9 Comments on “Reconciliation Needs To Pass First”

  1. [1] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    The "Biden agenda" is already dead as a dodo. This should be obvious to everyone. The Dems are not going to do what has to be done.

    Their "democracy is at stake" talking point is also falling on deaf ears. Why should anyone believe them? If it were true, their hair should be on fire. Instead, Schumer's going to allow the senate to take a month long vacation in August.

    The End is near.

  2. [2] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    You guys are betting bad about transpositions in your writings/discussions, likely emblematic of foggy thinking.

    First you come up with 'pandemic' in place of the actual 'dempanic' and now I read 'reconciliation' in place of 'sillyreconation'!!

    There's just no end to it!

  3. [3] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Oops, make "betting" read 'getting'.

  4. [4] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    "dempanic" again? Is it a "dempanic" in Japan, India, and UK as well? Jesus F Christ! The boring and repetitive trolling* around here should be cancel cultured. There's just no end to it!

    * I regret having said that Stucki is not a troll as he seems to have been offended by my comment and has tried harder. He just isn't very good at it.

  5. [5] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    John FC

    Of course it's not a 'dempanic' in those countries, only in the U.S. Those guys are smarter than that. We're the 'fumduckers'!!!

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @crs [fpc]

    i don't see what's so impractical about banning people from borrowing who don't have a legitimate chance of paying the loan back, nor of placing a reasonable ceiling on interest rates, nor amending personal bankruptcy so people aren't permanently saddled with loans they'll never be able to repay.

    if people who had no business taking out loans stopped receiving them, wouldn't that be a good thing?


  7. [7] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Poet [ftp]

    I personally have absolutely no objections to any sort of restrictions on loaning money to people who shouldn't be borrowing. I only attempted to point out political realities regarding what can be done and what is politically unrealistic. I actually think Shakespeare got it totally correct.

  8. [8] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    This is good, likely debate, Gentlemen, and I am enjoying it.

    Isnt this sooo much better than warring with trolls?

  9. [9] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Problem solved. Didn't see this one when I was writing this, but it totally works for me:

    "But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday that the House will not pass the bipartisan bill until the Senate also passes a reconciliation measure, which constitutes leverage to force the latter to happen."


Comments for this article are closed.