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The social spending deal between Sen. Joe Mnuchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could give Democrats a big win as the campaign season heats up, but there’s still a list of hurdles and unknowns that Democrats need to overcome to get legislation across the finish line.
After more than a year of on-and-off talks, Schumer, DN.Y., and Manchin, DW.Va. announced a compromise law last week that is largely scaled back from the initial $3 trillion-plus “build back better” budget. “bill. The new bill, officially called the “Inflation Reduction Act,” would spend $433 billion and raise $739 billion in tax revenue, according to Democrats.
While it’s only a shell of what progressives want, Democrats appear poised to hammer out a deal as something they can tout to voters before the midterms. They plan to use a process called reconciliation to advance the bill along party lines, avoiding the 60-vote filibuster.
However, they must first avoid a series of threats that could slow, or stall, their efforts.
Manchin disputes statistics showing that social spending bills will raise taxes on the middle class during a recession
All 50 Democrats scrambling
Although Manchin is on board with the bill, there is still one great vote for Senate Democrats: Sen. Kirsten Cinema, D-Ariz.
Sinema was not closely involved in negotiations on the latest iteration of the Democrats’ reconciliation plan, Mnuchin said, because he kept his cards close to his vest, not sure if he would ever be able to agree on anything. If Sinema decides to oppose it, it will be a huge blow to Democrats. Manchin said he plans to discuss the bill with Cinema on Monday night.
A spokeswoman for Sinema told Fox News Digital on Monday that she currently has no comment on the reconciliation bill, adding that “she is reviewing the text of the bill and will need to see what comes through the parliamentary process.”
The lawmaker, Elizabeth McDonough, still needs to hear arguments from Republicans and Democrats on the Byrd rule and issue rulings on which parts of the bill should be struck down as unconstitutional, under the rule. That means it’s unlikely the cinema will take a stand on the bill by the end of this week.
Democrats also need to stay healthy so all their members can show up to vote. Mnuchin recently had COVID-19, but now it’s back. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., just came out of surgery and is back. If any of the other members have health issues that prevent them from voting, the reconciliation effort will be halted, at least temporarily.
Cinema still undecided on Mnuchin social spending bill, will decide after parliamentary review
On the flip side, if Republicans catch the coronavirus, it could help Democrats. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced Monday that he tested positive. If he has an extended absence, or if more Republicans announce positive tests, Democrats won’t need Vice President Kamala Harris to break a tie vote on the bill.
Parliamentary Rules Procedure
McDonough’s Bird Rule process also presents another hurdle for Democrats, as it will take time. Additionally, MacDonough may advise that some key elements of the bill be removed to comply with the Byrd Rule, which generally allows reconciliation bills to contain provisions affecting federal revenue and spending.
Any changes are unlikely to doom the bill, given how desperate for a political win Democrats are facing in the tough midterms.
However, McDonough’s decisions on previous versions of the reconciliation bill, particularly on immigration provisions, have frustrated Democrats. James Wallner, a senior fellow on governance at the R Street Institute, said that nothing is a done deal, especially with Democrats’ slim margins.
“We shouldn’t count until our votes are in,” he said.
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Wallner also noted that the Senate doesn’t actually need to hear a lawmaker and can simply dismiss him. As a general rule, however, the Senate has followed that precedent for reconciliation bills, and top lawmakers have given no indication they plan to ignore McDonough this time around.
Poison pill amendment
Perhaps the riskiest process for Democrats will be the “vote-a-rama,” which, depending on a number of factors, is likely to take place between late this week and early next.
After time for debate on a reconciliation bill expires, senators can continue to propose unlimited amendments, which are voted on in rapid-fire succession. They will usually come to the floor in installments agreed upon by party leadership, and the Senate will take dozens of votes in marathon sessions that can last all night. The most recent Senate vote-a-ra on preliminary reconciliation directives lasted more than 15 hours.
However, this vote-e-ram is in the actual legislative text of the bill, which means that any changes made through this process will be reflected in law if the bill is passed. This gives Republicans a chance to potentially inject poison pill amendments on various issues that could cause some Democrats to vote against the bill either in the Senate or in the House, where their majorities are tied.
A common practice in vote-a-ram is for the leadership to propose what is called a wrap-around amendment at the end of it, which essentially nullifies any changes passed during the marathon voting session. That would require all 50 Democrats to vote for it. Cinema’s office did not commit to a vote on the wrap-around amendment in an email to Fox News Digital on Monday.
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Wallner said voting for the wrap-around amendment may not be easy for many Democrats, especially if they voted for the amendment during the vote-a-ram.
“That’s not an easy thing for them. It depends on outside pressure. It depends on their constituents’ concerns. It depends on the media attention to what’s going on,” Wallner said. “There’s a reason they couldn’t stop that amendment from passing. .”
One thing going in favor of Democrats in Vote-a-Rama, Wallner said, is that Republicans are just as concerned about winning elections this fall. That means Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could hold his fire on some provisions that could divide Democrats, as they could also reveal dissent within the GOP.
“If you really want to use an amendment strategy to get a bill to the floor, it’s really hard to do it in a way that keeps your party united,” Wallner said. “Because by definition if your party is united, the other party is likely to be united in opposition.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.