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The senate fillibuster depends upon hot air

By David Kruse - Columnist | Apr 6, 2021

Part 1 of 2

The strongest hurdle determining what can be legislated in Washington is the U.S. Senate. When the Dems won both Georgia seats in the Senatorial runoff election, it had huge consequences on the balance of power in Washington. The party in control is the gate-keeper deciding what gets a vote and what doesn’t. There had been a pileup of bills passed by the House in the previous Congress that built up at the Senate doorstep unattended to. Some were even bi-partisan but the Senate was being run by a minority of the majority consensus. There was a minority in the majority that opposed everything. Some bills with very strong broad public support were subsequently snubbed in the Senate by the GOP. Now we are going to see a lot more voting being done in the Senate as the House and Senate coordinate under Democratic leadership. The next governor on the legislative carburetor will be the Senate filibuster that requires a 60-vote majority to approve most proposed legislation.

The filibuster goes back to ancient Rome. According to Wikipedia, “A filibuster is a political procedure where one or more members of Parliament or Congress debate over a proposed piece of legislation to delay or entirely prevent a decision being made on the proposal. It is sometimes referred to as “talking a bill to death” or “talking out a bill” and is characterized as a form of obstruction in a legislature or other decision-making body.” There are exceptions where some items cannot be filibustered. These bills are taken up under an exception called “reconciliation”. Measures such as the $1.9 trillion Covid aid bill qualified under “reconciliation” rules for a strait up or down vote.

Wikipedia says that “Reconciliation is a parliamentary procedure of the United States Congress that expedites the passage of certain budgetary legislation in the United States Senate. The Senate filibuster effectively requires a 60-vote super-majority for the passage of most legislation in the Senate, but reconciliation provides a process to prevent the use of the filibuster and thereby allow the passage of a bill with simple majority support in the Senate. Reconciliation bills can be passed on spending, revenue, and the federal debt limit, and the Senate can pass one bill per year affecting each subject. Congress can thus pass a maximum of three reconciliation bills per year, though in practice it has often passed a single reconciliation bill affecting both spending and revenue.”

Senate rules get even more complicated.

“The “Byrd Rule” prohibited budget reconciliation bills from carrying “extraneous” matters, defined as follows: A provision is extraneous if… it does not produce a change in mandatory (direct) outlays, or revenues, or a change in the terms and conditions under which mandatory outlays are made or revenues are collected…if it produces a mandatory outlay increase or revenue decrease when the instructed committee is not in compliance with its instructions…if it is outside of the jurisdiction of the committee that submitted the title or provision for inclusion in the reconciliation measure… if it produces a change in mandatory outlays or revenues which is merely incidental to the nonbudgetary components of the provision…if it would increase the deficit for a fiscal year beyond the “budget window” covered by the reconciliation measure… if it recommends changes in Social Security.” The Senate parliamentarian then become a high-profile component of congress, deciding what legislation can be considered under reconciliation rules. The progressives, led by Bernie Sanders, were extremely forlorn when the parliamentarian ruled that the minimum wage hike to $15 hour could not be included in the recent comprehensive bill so was stripped out. This has some progressives campaigning to eliminate the Senate filibuster altogether or fail to see their agenda become law. There is currently not a majority of Democrats willing to get rid of the filibuster so doing so is only a ‘what if” concept. Their first attempt will likely be to reform the filibuster. It used to be that a “filibuster” was synonymous with a Senator holding the floor and talking the whole time so as to prevent a vote. That got simplified to a 60-vote majority. They may have to modify it to fit reconciliation rules but some form of infrastructure spending bill should qualify for reconciliation. It is when it comes to things like voting rights, the green new deal, and immigration reform that the filibuster can block the legislation.

The filibuster will limit what can get passed into law. The Dems have just 50 votes and it takes them all in order to pass anything. Even that is not a sure thing as there are not 50 Dems that favor a progressive agenda. 8 Dems voted against increasing the minimum wage. A gun ban would not get 50 democratic votes. West Virginia senator Joe Manchin has become the deal maker or breaker in the Senate. He is a conservative democrat from as GOP state. To date, President Biden, long time previous member of the Senate, has opposed eliminating the filibuster. He wants to see the Senate do its job and produce bipartisan legislation. They will use the threat of eliminating the filibuster in order to motivate cross party cooperation. If that doesn’t work and frustration grows then all bets are off.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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