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A social spending deal between Sen. Joe Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could give Democrats a major win as campaign season heats up, but there is still a list of hurdles and unknowns Democrats need to overcome to get the legislation across the finish line.
After more than a year of on-and-off negotiations, Schumer, DN.Y., and Manchin, DW.Va., last week announced an agreement legislation that is massively scaled back from the initial $3 trillion-plus “Build Back Better bill. The new bill, officially called the “Inflation Reduction Act,” spends $433 billion and would raise $739 billion in tax revenue, according to Democrats.
Though it is just a shell of what progressives want, Democrats appear poised to pounce on the agreement 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 first have to avoid a series of pitfalls that could slow, or even stall, their efforts.
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Wrangling all 50 Democrats
Though Manchin is on board with the bill, there is still one outstanding vote for Senate Democrats: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
Sinema was not closely involved in the negotiations over the latest iteration of Democrats’ reconciliation plan, Manchin said, because he kept his cards close to his vest, unsure of if he would ever be able to agree to anything. If Sinema decides to oppose it, that would be a better setback for Democrats. Manchin said Monday that he planned on discussing the bill with Sinema on Monday night.
A spokesperson for Sinema told Fox News Digital on Monday that she does not currently have comment on the reconciliation bill, “as she is reviewing the bill text and will need to see what comes out of the parliamentarian process.”
The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, still needs to hear arguments from Republicans and Democrats on the Byrd Rule and issue rulings on which parts of the bill should be removed as not germane, under the rule. That means it is unlikely Sinema will take a stance on the bill until later this week.
Democrats also need to stay healthy so all their members can be present for votes. Manchin recently had COVID-19, but is now back. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was recently sidelined with a surgery and is now back as well. If any other members have health problems that prevent them from voting, the reconciliation effort will be stalled, at least temporarily.
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On the flip side, if Republicans catch the coronavirus, that 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 may not even need Vice President Kamala Harris to break a tie vote on the bill.
Parliamentarian rules process
MacDonough’s Byrd Rule process also presents another hurdle for Democrats, as it will take time. Furthermore, MacDonough could advise that some key elements of the bill should be removed to comply with the Byrd Rule, which generally says only provisions that impact federal revenue and spending can be in reconciliation bills.
It appears unlikely that any changes would doom the bill, given how Democrats, facing a tough midterm, are desperate for a political win.
However, MacDonough’s rulings on past versions of reconciliation bills, particularly on immigration provisions, have frustrated Democrats. James Wallner, R Street Institute senior fellow for governance, said that especially with Democrats’ thin margins, nothing is a done deal.
“We shouldn’t count our votes until they are cast,” he said.
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Wallner also noted that the Senate does not actually need to listen to the parliamentarian and could simply overrule her. 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 MacDonough this time.
Poison pill amendments
Perhaps the riskiest process of all for Democrats’ will be the “vote-a-rama,” which is likely to happen sometime between late this week and early next, depending on several factors.
After debate time is expired on the reconciliation bill, senators may continue offering unlimited amendments, which are voted on in rapid-fire succession. They will usually come to the floor in tranches agreed on by party leadership, and the Senate will likely take dozens of votes in a marathon session that could last all night. The most recent Senate vote-a-rama on initial reconciliation instructions lasted more than 15 hours.
However, this vote-a-rama is on the actual legislative text of the bill, meaning any changes that make it through that process will be reflected in law should the bill pass. This gives Republicans chances to potentially inject poison pill amendments on a range of issues that could cause some Democrats to vote against the bill in either the Senate, or in the House, where their majority is similarly small.
A common practice in a vote-a-rama is for leadership to offer what is called a wrap-around amendment at the end of it, which essentially voids any changes passed in the marathon voting session. That would require all 50 Democrats to vote for it. Sinema’s office did not commit to voting for a wrap-around amendment in an email to Fox News Digital on Monday.
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Wallner said a wrap-around amendment vote may not be easy for many Democrats, especially if they voted for an amendment during the vote-a-rama.
“That’s not necessarily an easy thing for them to do. It depends on the outside pressure. It depends on their constituents’ concerns. It depends on the media’s attention to what’s happening,” Wallner said. “There’s a reason why they couldn’t stop that amendment from passing.”
One thing going in Democrats’ favor on the vote-a-rama, Wallner said, is that Republicans are just as concerned with winning elections this fall as they are. That means Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could hold his fire on some provisions that could divide Democrats, because they could also reveal discord within the GOP.
“If you want to really use an amendment strategy to take a bill on the floor, it’s really hard to do that in a way that keeps your party unified,” Wallner said. “Because by definition if your party’s unified, chances are the other party is going to be unified in opposition.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.