Democrats ramp up talks with parliamentarian on Biden spending bill

Senate Democrats are ramping up talks with the parliamentarian as they try to hit an ambitious goal of passing President Biden’s climate and social spending bill before Christmas.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a “Dear Colleague” letter to Senate Democrats released Monday, detailed meetings that committees and Democratic staff have had or will have with parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who provides guidance on whether a proposal complies with rules on what can be passed under budget reconciliation, the process Democrats are seeking to use to pass their massive spending bill.  

“The committees with the two largest pieces of the bill – Finance and HELP – are set to have their final Democratic-only briefings on Monday and Tuesday with the formal bipartisan Byrd Bath meetings to follow,” Schumer wrote in the letter.  

“Our goal is to finalize the remaining committees over the course of this week and next. I am confident that Senators will have ample time to review the text and CBO scores,” he added. 

The roughly $2 trillion spending bill has to go through a so-called “Byrd bath,” during which MacDonough weighs in whether the bill complies with the Byrd rule, which lays out restrictions for what can be passed under the budget rules. Among those rules is that a proposal has to have an impact on federal spending and revenues and that its impact isn’t “merely incidental” to its non-budgetary goals. 

As part of that process, GOP and Democratic staffers meet separately with the parliamentarian in informal meetings and then sit down with her together to make their competing pitches.

Democrats are still awaiting MacDonough’s ruling on their latest immigration plan, after Judiciary and Budget Committee staff as well as leadership staffers for both Republicans and Democrats met with her last week.

“As we have discussed, that process has already begun for some of the immigration-related provisions. The remaining provisions will begin the Byrd Bath process after all of the final text is submitted and the pre- meetings with the Parliamentarian are complete,” Schumer wrote in his letter.

“I especially want to thank the Senate Parliamentarian and the staff for all of the time and energy they have dedicated to this process. It is a very onerous job and they are handling it with professionalism,” he added.

Schumer didn’t specify in his letter when he would bring the spending bill to the floor, but reiterated that it is Democrats’ goal to pass the spending bill by Christmas. 

Schumer had privately indicated that he could bring the bill to the floor as soon as the week of Dec. 13, but that could be pushed if lawmakers are still in talks with the parliamentarian. Schumer has said that he will bring the climate and spending bill to the floor after those wrap up.  

There’s also growing skepticism that Democrats will be able to hit their self-imposed Christmas goal as negotiations continue among Democrats and with the Senate referee.  

In addition to Biden’s spending plan, lawmakers are facing a packed year-end schedule. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has given Congress until Dec. 15 to raise the debt ceiling, while lawmakers still need to work out a final version of a sweeping defense bill. Schumer also wants to approve more nominations and take another run at passing voting rights legislation, which has repeatedly been blocked by Republicans. 

Schumer, in his letter, indicated that he was dropping the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and would instead bring a final version negotiated between the two chambers to the floor. 

“For this coming week, we anticipate processing nominations and a final conference agreement on NDAA. Due to the time it may take to process those items in the Senate without cooperation, Senators should prepare for potential weekend votes,” he said.

Tags Byrd bath Byrd Rule Chuck Schumer Janet Yellen Joe Biden Reconciliation spending bill

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