Senate Democrats' budget to allow use of simple-majority rules for passage

Senate Democrats have written their budget resolution so they can pass jobs legislation using reconciliation, the controversial process used last month to move healthcare reform.

The resolution does not specify what specific jobs measures could be covered, and does not explicitly allow for the use of reconciliation rules to pass energy legislation or the extension of George W. Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year.

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Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinDemocratic National Convention event calendar Bernie’s ‘revolution’ marches to Philly Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension MORE (D-Md.) and a number of other Democrats on Tuesday, however, said the fast-track process could be used to move tax cuts, energy legislation and more later this year.

“There are many different areas it could be used,” Cardin said.

When Democrats approved a budget resolution last year, it specified that the rules could be used for healthcare and student loan legislation.

Democrats did just that in March to avoid a Republican filibuster. That has boosted their confidence to use the procedure on other issues, Cardin said.

“We need to have the ability to move forward on underlying important bills by majority vote, and the rules of the Senate permit you to do that [on bills] that reduce the deficit consistent with the budget resolution,” he said.

Reconciliation instructions allow legislation that cuts deficits to move through the Senate with a simple majority by preventing procedural objections that take 60 votes to overcome.

For reconciliation to work, Democrats in both chambers would need to adopt a fiscal 2011 budget resolution containing the key language.

President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaDem donor irked by Nordic dinner invite Five decades of Democratic convention memories First lady goes to bat for Clinton MORE and Democrats in Congress have backed extending the tax cuts for all but those in the top two tax brackets, who make more than $250,000 a year.

Budget reconciliation rules were used to move the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts in the GOP-controlled Senate .

By saying broadly that jobs measures would be covered by the rules, Democrats appear to have given themselves wide latitude to use reconciliation for the tax cuts. Still, it will be a challenge since extending the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 would cost nearly $2.2 trillion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Sens. Ron WydenRon WydenDems push for US, EU cooperation on China's market status Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Watchdog faults Energy Department over whistleblower retaliation MORE (D-Ore.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) have proposed an overhaul of the tax code to close loopholes and reduce the number of income tax brackets.

“Clearly, the opportunity to at least begin discussions [on tax reform] will be part of the budget debate,” Wyden said.

Cobbling together 60 votes in the Senate is expected to remain difficult for Democrats, who are struggling to win over Republicans for a Wall Street reform bill.

They are also likely to see their majority shrink in the Senate next year.

Gregg said he was worried that Democrats would use the fast-track process this year given its use on healthcare reform.

“It’s a concern ... any time my colleagues on the other side of the aisle start eyeing reconciliation,” said Gregg, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

In March when Democrats used reconciliation to pass a package of fixes to the Senate healthcare bill, they believed the public would overlook the process of how legislation Democrats see as historic reform came to pass. They also believed they would get a bump in the polls after healthcare’s passage.

Republicans warned the public would see Democrats as overreaching in using the special rules. While both parties have used budget reconciliation over the past two decades, Republicans said the use of the rules for moving healthcare was different because of the importance of the legislation.

The budget resolution was drafted by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). His committee will mark up the resolution Wednesday and Thursday.

The proposed resolution also includes a freeze on non-security discretionary spending that President Barack Obama has proposed.

The non-binding budget resolution serves as the initial step in the reconciliation process. It also set caps on discretionary spending for the coming fiscal year and describes the majority’s medium-term fiscal policies.

Conrad has said he wants to go further than Obama has proposed in reducing deficits. While Obama’s budget would cut a deficit that will equal 10 percent of gross domestic product this year to roughly 4 percent by 2014, Conrad has set a target of 3 percent for his budget.

He finds more savings than Obama by partly allowing the alternative minimum tax to hit taxpayers after 2012.

Republicans have used the reconciliation process more often than Democrats since 1981, according to a Congressional Research Service report. GOP-led Congresses have used the procedure 14 times, while Democrats have used it nine times when they were in the majority.

Cardin and other liberals on the Senate Budget Committee said a reconciliation bill could be used as the vehicle for more stimulus spending and changes to the healthcare reform law.

“What we want to do is end up with legislation that is going to create a substantial number of jobs,” said Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDems flirt with disaster on convention’s first day Trump: Bernie gave up, ‘did all that work for nothing’ Sanders fires back at Trump: 'Never tweet' MORE (I-Vt.). “We don’t have 60 votes to do that. We could do that through majority rule, 51 votes.

“I would also hope we could have a public option as well,” Sanders added, referring to a government-run health plan for those younger than 65 that could compete with private insurers.