Here’s a depressing story from Annie Lowrey about how House Democrats’ reluctance to cast “yes” votes on a budget resolution that features a high deficit mean that next year it won’t be possible to pass any bills through the budget reconciliation process:
Recognizing that Democrats would be reluctant to record “yes” votes for a budget that would augment the deficit, the House leadership opted to deem as passed a “budget enforcement resolution” instead, just before the July 4 recess. While the distinction between an enforcement resolution and a full budget is largely technical, there is one crucial difference: Under the enforcement resolution, Democrats can no longer use a parliamentary tactic known as budget reconciliation next year — a process Democrats had hoped might allow them to pass key pieces of legislation, such as a jobs bill, with 51 votes in the Senate, as opposed to the usual 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.
Under the arcane rules of the Senate, budget reconciliation can only be used if it was written into the budget rules passed the previous year. With no full budget, there can be no reconciliation. As a consequence, Democrats lose a valuable tool for passing budget-related items on a majority-rules vote. Stimulus and jobs measures, if they combined short-term spending with longer-term deficit reduction, would have qualified for reconciliation.
Some policy advisers and members of Congress pushing for a such a measure — and recognizing that it could not make it past a Republican filibuster — viewed reconciliation as a last hope. “What we want to do is end up with legislation that is going to create a substantial number of jobs,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters. “We don’t have 60 votes to do that. We could do that through majority rule, 51 votes.”
Shame on everyone involved for thinking that a single vote will be swung by this goofy procedural nonsense. The apparent belief of backbench House members that the American people understand or care about these procedural gimmicks is bizarre. It was bizarre during the “deem and pass” controversy of January and it’s bizarre today. But the White House needs to take a share of the blame here. For a while now they’ve engaged in a fair amount of “austerity theater” as a political strategy without really considering the systematic consequences of that which include the fact that many House members who’d be happy to support the Obama agenda don’t want to position themselves to the left of the most high-profile and well-regarded progressive leader in the country. Consequently, austerity theater spreads to the House and we don’t have a budget. Which means that in the 112 Congress there will be no legislative agenda.