Another Dumb Way to Overcome a Filibuster, For Nothing

As you may recall from last week, House conservatives have begun calling on Mitch McConnell to use some sort of nuclear option to overcome a Democratic filibuster against a resolution of disapproval of the Iran Nuclear Deal. It was kinda easy to keep this straight because it involved two “nuclears,” doncha know. But it was more than a little dumb to contemplate a change in Senate rules just to substitute a presidential veto for a filibuster as the instrument whereby GOP plans to kill the deal were themselves killed.

Even as that rather dumb discussion continues, there’s something only a bit less dumb circulating among Republicans with respect to the Planned Parenthood funding impasse: the use of a budget reconciliation bill zeroing out the funding. That measure by definition could not be filibustered. But as Molly Reynolds of Brookings explains, it could be vulnerable to a Byrd Rule challenge as non-germane to the budget:

In place since 1985, the Byrd Rule seeks to ensure that reconciliation bills are about what the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 originally intended when it created the procedures: deficit reduction. The rule prohibits “extraneous matter” in reconciliation bills, with six definitions of “extraneous.” These include a requirement that each part of the bill “produce a change in outlays or revenues” and, importantly, that those changes to spending and revenues are not “merely incidental” to the non-budgetary aspects of a given provision. If a senator believes that something in a reconciliation bill runs afoul of the Byrd Rule, he or she can raise an objection, or point of order, on the floor of the Senate. From there, it’s up to the Senate Parliamentarian to rule on whether the provision stays or goes. The Byrd Rule can be waived, but that motion requires a supermajority to pass, bringing us right back to the Senate’s increasingly-regular, sixty-vote world.

And if the Parliamentarian rules in the GOP’s favor and holds that a Planned Parenthood defunding measure does not violate the Byrd Rule, Obama will still slap it down with a veto Republicans have no hope of overriding.

Glad the congressional GOP is so into governing this year, and also glad they don’t waste time over cultural conflicts, either.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.