A White House official signaled Monday night that the Trump administration might try to push its infrastructure plan through the Senate without Democratic support using a parliamentary maneuver called budget reconciliation. But such a plan would face potentially insurmountable hurdles — meaning there may be no way for Senate Republicans to overcome a filibuster threat without reaching across the aisle.
The official later told a reporter that he had not “intended to say” infrastructure would be passed through reconciliation, and that the White House is still aiming for the bill to get 60 votes to end cloture. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urged the president to work with Democrats.
Reconciliation, which allows certain types of legislation to pass the Senate without any danger of a filibuster, can only be used to for bills that affect government revenue and entitlement spending — not expenditures on things like infrastructure. Bills passed through reconciliation also must be responding to specific instructions from an already-passed budget resolution.
“Technically it could be done, but the challenge for this Congress is to coordinate itself.”
It would be theoretically possible to pass an infrastructure bill through reconciliation, Brookings Institution senior fellow Sarah Binder told ThinkProgress, if Republicans first enacted a resolution instructing the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees to write revenue-based infrastructure provisions.
“Technically in a well-functioning Congress, one could use reconciliation,” Binder said. “Through the revenue reconciliation affecting the tax code, you could use it for broader corporate tax reform as well as creating tax incentives to spark infrastructure investment from the perspective of changes to tax code. It doesn’t matter what the purpose of changing the tax code is in the reconciliation context.”
But those tax incentives would need to be deficit-neutral — which means they would need to offset them by raising money elsewhere, Binder said.
“In theory, when they get around to writing a budget resolution that sets up the next reconciliation bill, they could tell other committees to come up with savings we can apply to pay for the tax cuts,” she said.
That’s politically untenable for a number of reasons, since Republicans have many legislative priorities on their plate and haven’t made a lot of progress on them this year. They’re also moving closer to House elections, and lawmakers may be getting anxious about taking political risks, Binder said. Although the White House hasn’t unveiled their full infrastructure plan, House Republicans have opposed some of its ideas in the past, such as the plan to privatize air traffic control.
“It just compounds the political difficulty of just trying to do tax reform in itself, if we are adding one more policy issue and the assortment of political interests that come with it,” Binder said. “The House members and senators, too, will be a little more skittish about certain types of changes to the tax law. Everything becomes more difficult in an election year.”