Dems’ decision to forgo budget means no more 51-vote Senate majorities 

Congressional Democrats have correctly concluded that not passing an official budget for next fiscal year won’t be much of a trouble for them–saying the words federal and budget is the quickest way to get most people’s eyes to glaze over–but they may not have anticipated another consequence of this strategy: without an official budget, Senate Democrats cannot use the parliamentary trick of “reconciliation” to evade Republican attempts to filibuster bills.

Long story short, this means that reconciliation, more famously known as the method used to shove President Obama’s healthcare bill through the Senate, cannot be used in 2011 no matter which party controls the chamber. The Washington Independent has the broader context:

Recognizing that Democrats would be reluctant to record “yes” votes for a budget that would augment the deficit, the House leadership opted to deem as passed a “budget enforcement resolution” instead, just before the July 4 recess. While the distinction between an enforcement resolution and a full budget is largely technical, there is one crucial difference: Under the enforcement resolution, Democrats can no longer use a parliamentary tactic known as budget reconciliation next year — a process Democrats had hoped might allow them to pass key pieces of legislation, such as a jobs bill, with 51 votes in the Senate, as opposed to the usual 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

Under the arcane rules of the Senate, budget reconciliation can only be used if it was written into the budget rules passed the previous year. With no full budget, there can be no reconciliation. As a consequence, Democrats lose a valuable tool for passing budget-related items on a majority-rules vote. Stimulus and jobs measures, if they combined short-term spending with longer-term deficit reduction, would have qualified for reconciliation.

Some policy advisers and members of Congress pushing for a such a measure — and recognizing that it could not make it past a Republican filibuster — viewed reconciliation as a last hope. “What we want to do is end up with legislation that is going to create a substantial number of jobs,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters. “We don’t have 60 votes to do that. We could do that through majority rule, 51 votes.”

But a desire among Democrats to avoid voting on a deficit-increasing budget won out over the need to preserve reconciliation in creating the budget enforcement resolution. “Members looked at the budget and said, ‘We might need more deficit spending,’” said Jim Horney, the director of federal fiscal policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “And anything you do to try to reduce those deficits would necessarily include policies that might not be popular — tax increases, cuts in major programs.” The House leadership judged the enforcement resolution as less of a political risk for moderate Democrats who will face difficult re-election campaigns in the fall.

There’s lots more at the link.

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Matthew Sheffield

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