COMPASS: COVID relief and budget reconciliation

February 1st, 2021

Good afternoon from snowy Capitol Hill. While the major blockades are gone, roads around the Capitol continue to be blocked off, and leaders are contemplating making the wall around the Capitol a permanent fixture. The rhetorical divide between Members of Congress and their constituents is about to become a literal one.

The House and Senate are both in session this week. The House will begin debate on a budget resolution, which is the first step toward teeing up a reconciliation process, which is how Democrats are expected to pass more COVID-related legislation.

Weary Congress-watchers will recall that reconciliation is privileged in the Senate, meaning it cannot be filibustered. It passes with a simple majority of senators. However, the Byrd Rule, a law designed to focus the process on budgetary matters, places strict limits around what can actually be passed via reconciliation.

Because the Senate is largely broken when it comes to the process of lawmaking, reconciliation has become the go-to way in which major legislating is done. Both parties have been playing footsie with the rules of reconciliation for years, pushing to expand the confines of the Byrd Rule to cover their intended policies.

While Democrat leadership refuses to remove the possibility that they will attempt to nuke the Senate’s legislative filibuster, blowing up the reconciliation process may actually be the first area where Senate Democrats aggress.

More interesting will be the response of Senate Republicans — that is, if they put up any fight at all beyond a rhetorical one. If the recent power-sharing agreement between Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is any indication, it will be minimal.

In this essay, I laid out a possible path for McConnell to enshrine filibuster protections in the power-sharing agreement that will govern a 50-50 Senate. Instead, McConnell agreed to ease the process for Biden nominees in exchange for nothing. He has agreed to “protect” the filibuster by relying on the commitment of two Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — to vote against efforts to do so.

Again, longtime Senate observers will recall that verbal commitments in the modern Senate mean approximately nothing, and that Joe Manchin is a senator who consistently wilts in the face of national pressure. The legislative filibuster is not protected — far from it — and the Senate GOP has wasted what leverage they had to keep it secure (or at the very least, to make eliminating it far more painful).

Meanwhile, the Senate continues to expedite the process of President Biden’s nominees without much of a fight — even as Democrats obstructed Trump’s nominees for four years. They will vote this week to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

A second impeachment of Donald Trump — now a private citizen — is also pending. After a vote last week on a constitutional point of order raised by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) against the impeachment of a non-office holder, it looks unlikely that the Senate will have enough votes to convict. That will not stop Democrats from forcing a trial, which will likely begin in a week or so.

If you haven’t seen the forceful speech Sen. Paul gave on this issue, it’s worth watching in its entirety.

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One More Thing…

Phil Reboli, CPI’s Director of Government Affairs, is also host of the Minute Man Moment with Gun Owners of America. Watch his videos here — including his latest, on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s effort to ban and fine Members of Congress for carrying in the Capitol.

And if you missed it, we are happy to welcome former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to the CPI team!