CHN: The Senate Changes Hands

With the election of Democratic Senators Raphael Wornock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia, there are 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans in the Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris presides, and by breaking the tie in favor of Democrats, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has become Majority Leader. However, negotiations between the parties have not yet led to the organizing agreement needed to establish committee participation. That means Republicans are still the chairs of Senate committees, and still have majorities in some committees until the agreement is finalized. Republicans want a commitment to retain the filibuster as the rules now require (60 votes are needed to end filibusters related to most legislation, including appropriations bills; nominations for executive appointments and judges can proceed with a simple majority). Many Democrats would like to get rid of the filibuster, but it would take every Democrat (plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Harris) to get rid of it, and at least Senator Manchin (D-WV) has announced opposition to doing so. Nevertheless, Majority Leader Schumer has rejected an up-front promise not to end the filibuster, so negotiations continue.

It would take 10 Republican senators to vote for the American Rescue Plan proposed by President Biden (see article in this issue) to break a filibuster against that legislation, assuming all Democrats voted for it. If it appears that such bipartisan support will not be forthcoming, Democrats are considering utilizing budget process rules to be able to enact legislation similar to the Biden plan with only a simple majority in the Senate. This would require the House and Senate to agree on a narrowly drawn budget resolution with “reconciliation” instructions to various committees to come up with legislation that would advance provisions in the COVID rescue plan. Both the budget resolution and the reconciliation bills that emerge only need a simple majority. There are constraints on what can be included using this approach, but Senate rules experts are exploring ways to use reconciliation to the fullest, intent on avoiding the logjam of a needed a 60-vote supermajority to overcome expected filibusters. For more information about how reconciliation works, see this recorded webinar: Budget Strategy to Pass a COVID Bill in the Senate: Reconciliation 101.

117th Congress