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Senate ruling gives Democrats a back door around an infrastructure filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.ANNA MONEYMAKER/NYT

WASHINGTON — Democrats might not have the votes to gut the filibuster, but they were just handed the procedural keys to a backdoor assault on the Senate’s famous obstruction tactic.

With a ruling on Monday that Democrats can reuse this year’s budget blueprint at least once to employ the fast-track reconciliation process, Democrats can conceivably advance multiple spending and tax packages this year alone without a single Republican vote as long as they hold their 50 members together. It is a means of weakening the filibuster without having to take the politically charged vote to do so.

Democrats insist that they have made no decisions about how to use the tool.


“It is always good to have a series of insurance policies,” Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, said about the possibility that Democrats could repeatedly duplicate last month’s party-line passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation should they not be able to work out deals with Republicans.

But whatever strategy they employ, it is clear that the decision by the Senate parliamentarian to agree with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, that a musty 47-year-old budget provision could be used more than once in a fiscal year widens President Biden’s path to enacting his emerging infrastructure plan by shielding it from a filibuster if need be.

It also means other Democratic initiatives could become filibuster-proof moving forward, and that is already spurring creative efforts among lawmakers and activists to imagine other priorities that could be stuffed into reconciliation packages.

“I always would prefer to do legislation in a bipartisan way, but we have to get big, bold things done,” Schumer said in an interview. “And so we need to have as many options as possible if Republicans continue to obstruct.”

The filibuster — which takes 60 votes to overcome — remains an obstacle for many of the cutting-edge policies Democrats would like to enact, such as a sweeping campaign finance and voting rights measure as well as new gun laws. But if stymied by Republicans on measures that they can protect under reconciliation — which applies to policy changes that directly affect federal spending and revenues — Democrats will now have more opportunities to move ahead on their own if they choose.


Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who is the minority leader, said Democrats were being driven to twist the process by their inability to win Republican support for their plans and the fear that they will lose the majority next year. Republicans can be expected to put up as many roadblocks as possible to what they see as an attempt to exploit a loophole.

“This is a party that is going hard left, and they are audacious, and they are ambitious, and they will bend the rules and break the rules and rewrite the rules and do everything they can to get what they want as fast as they can,” McConnell said in an interview.

Given the vast ideological differences between the two parties, many progressives have been urging Democrats to use their bare majority to take steps to weaken, if not eliminate, the filibuster so that Democrats can overwhelm Republican resistance. But a handful of Democrats — notably Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — have resisted. They argue that by requiring a supermajority, the filibuster forces bipartisan compromise, and that upending it would destroy the fabric of the Senate and its history of protecting the rights of the minority party.


But reconciliation is another matter entirely. Since the enactment of the 1974 Budget Act, both parties have used the maneuver to push a variety of tax cuts and social programs into law, often over the unified opposition of the minority party. Sinema and Manchin supported reconciliation as recently as last month, when Democrats used it to muscle through Biden’s stimulus plan. Democrats expect that they could be enticed to do so again if they can be convinced that there is no chance of bipartisanship and it is the only available route to accomplishing vital objectives.

In fact, the process would further strengthen the hand of centrist Democrats to shape legislation, given that the party would be unable to afford any defections.


Ex-US housing official admits to violations tied to pro-Trump video

A former top federal housing official in New York under then-President Trump admitted Tuesday she violated federal rules over her role in creating a pro-Trump reelection video featuring public housing tenants that was shown last year at the Republican National Convention.

The official, Lynne Patton, will not serve in federal government for at least the next four years and will pay a $1,000 fine as part of an agreement with the federal agency that investigates violations of the Hatch Act, which bars most federal employees from using their government position to engage in political activities.


The video, shown on the final night of the convention, featured four New Yorkers who live in public housing and who appeared to support Trump.

But the day after it aired, three of the tenants told The New York Times that Patton had recruited them to appear in the video and tricked them into believing that it would focus on problems at the New York City Housing Authority.

“By using information and NYCHA connections available to her solely by virtue of her HUD position, Patton improperly harnessed the authority of her federal position to assist the Trump campaign,’' the Office of Special Counsel, the agency that enforces the Hatch Act, said in a statement.

Patton, who had previously said the White House had given her permission to produce the video, said in an e-mail Tuesday that she did not regret having created it.

The video was not the first time Patton was found to have run afoul of the Hatch Act. In 2019, the Office of Special Counsel found that she violated the law when she displayed a Trump campaign hat in her New York office and for “liking” political tweets.


Slain Capitol Police Officer Evans to lie in honor

WASHINGTON — The US Capitol Police officer who was killed when a man’s vehicle rammed him and another officer will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda next week, congressional leaders said Tuesday, the second time this year that a Capitol Police officer will be recognized in the building he was sworn to protect.


Officer Billy Evans, 41, served for 18 years on the Capitol Police force. On Tuesday, his family released a statement saying, “His death has left a gaping void in our lives that will never be filled.” He was a father of two children, who his family said were “the absolute most important thing in his life. . . . His most cherished moments were those spent with them.”

District of Columbia police said Evans, a native of North Adams, Mass., and a graduate of Western New England University, was killed by Noah Green, 25, who they say slammed his car into Evans and another Capitol Police officer shortly after 1 p.m. Friday, then climbed out of the car wielding a knife and was fatally shot by a third Capitol Police officer. The second injured officer was hospitalized overnight and released Saturday. Authorities on Tuesday identified him as Ken Shaver.

“In giving his life to protect our Capitol and our Country, Officer Evans became a martyr for our democracy,” Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said in a statement. “On behalf of the entire Congress, we are profoundly grateful . . . It is our hope that this tribute will be a comfort to the family of Officer Evans, particularly his children Logan and Abigail, as will the knowledge that so many Americans mourn with and pray for them at this sad time.’'

Evans joins Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick as one of six people to lie in the Rotunda who were not a public official or a military leader. Sicknick, 42, died in January, shortly after battling with rioters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. Two Capitol Police officers who were fatally shot inside the Capitol in July 1998, John Gibson and Jacob Chestnut, were the first people to lie in honor in the Rotunda. Evangelist Billy Graham and civil rights icon Rosa Parks were similarly honored.