The Budget Reconciliation Battle Is a Procedural Power Grab
Few fights in Congress are more bitter than fights over Senate procedure. That’s because those disputes are rarely just about the rules. Instead, they are fights about the legitimacy of political power and who gets to wield it.
The latest round of procedural warfare began after Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress and the White House following the 2020 election. Pundits speculated that they might eliminate the legislative filibuster, but they appear to have found another procedural maneuver: reconciliation.
Although Democrats have 50 seats in the Senate and Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, the filibuster effectively requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass legislation. Obtaining 60 Senate votes means negotiating with Republicans. Yet many on the left see Senate Republicans as obstructionists, thanks largely to the not entirely incorrect perception that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) has ruthlessly exploited procedural advantages for partisan gain. According to this view, the filibuster is a major barrier to the Democratic agenda because Senate Republicans either cannot or will not negotiate in good faith.
Progressives mounted a campaign to eliminate the filibuster, arguing that it was a legacy of Jim Crow and that Republicans, by dramatically increasing its use, had cynically transformed what was intended to be a rare procedural tactic into a de facto 60-vote requirement for any and all legislation. The filibuster already had been whittled away: Senate Democrats eliminated it for executive branch and judicial nominees in 2013, and four years later Republicans extended those exceptions to include Supreme Court nominations. Why not get rid of the requirement for legislation too?
One reason: Some Senate Democrats, including crucial moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W. Va.)
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