Fast-track resolution instructions likely to be used to push tax legislation

The fast-track reconciliation instructions in Senate Democrats’ budget resolution are likely to be used to advance tax legislation.

The budget drafted by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) allows the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee to move “jobs legislation” through the reconciliation procedure, meaning with a simple majority rather than 60 votes.

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Asked whether it would be used to extend expiring tax policies, such as the George W. Bush-era tax breaks for the middle class, Conrad said on Wednesday that it would be up to the Finance Committee to choose which jobs bill to push through using reconciliation.

“Once we’ve given a reconciliation instruction, we don’t control how it’s used,” said Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “The Finance Committee controls how it’s used.”

An extension of those tax breaks would be difficult to pass using the reconciliation language inserted by Conrad. The reconciliation bill must reduce the deficit by $2 billion over a five-year period, while an extension of those tax breaks would cost $619 billion during the same period, according to Conrad’s staff.

Conrad’s budget would extend those tax breaks without offsetting most of their cost, which is the policy supported by President Barack Obama.

Conrad told reporters he would oppose using the reconciliation instruction to pass a carbon emissions cap-and-trade scheme, as he did last year.

“We had a commitment last year that it would not be used for cap-and-trade, and that would be my intention again this year,” he said.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) warned that Democrats could use the reconciliation process to increase government spending, as they did with portions of the healthcare bill.

“I don’t know what the $2 billion reconciliation instruction means,” Gregg said. “To me, it means, regrettably, that the option has been put on the table again to dramatically increase the size of government using the reconciliation vehicle.”

Gregg plans to offer an amendment Thursday that would prohibit more than a fifth of the reconciliation bill from being used on new government programs.

The Senate Budget Committee will consider Gregg’s amendment and others during a markup session of Conrad’s budget draft. If the committee reports out Conrad’s resolution, it could hit the Senate floor as early as next week.

House Democratic leaders have said they’ll watch what the Senate comes up with before considering their own budget resolution.

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