Can Democrats use a third budget reconciliation to pass the comprehensive marijuana reform bill that is supposed to be introduced soon?
There’s no use in mincing words: Senate Democrats are screwed. Although they have the majority this year, it’s by such a slim margin that it will be next to impossible for them to further their agenda without some support across the aisle. And so far, nobody over there wants to play nice.
The Republicans are still sore because the Democrats won the November election and even more so with how they went about passing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill. Capitol Hill is now full of back-biting tension, which has left Democrats scrambling for a way to work.
Unfortunately, since the Senate is split 50-50 (with Vice President Kamala Harris being the tiebreaker), Republicans can still use the filibuster to sabotage almost every bill the Democrats try to push through. The filibuster is an old Senate rule that requires a 60 vote supermajority on controversial issues. Democrats have threatened to do away with the filibuster, but they don’t really have the votes to do it. They need all 50 members of the Democratic Caucus to blow it out of the water.
Furthermore, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said more than once that he will bring the Senate to a screeching halt the second they so much as try to amend the rule.
For now, the filibuster stays.
This means the comprehensive marijuana bill that cannabis advocates had high hopes would pass this year probably won’t go far. There’s just not enough support in the upper chamber to get it done.
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Schumer has a plan, however, to help further the Democratic agenda. It will not require him to eliminate the filibuster, and it still allows the party to continue its winning streak. He hopes Section 304 of the Congressional Budget Act will allow the Democrats to pass a third budget reconciliation, requiring only a simple majority. Congress is typically only given one reconciliation per fiscal year. That one was technically used up when they approved Biden’s coronavirus plan. They want to use a 2022 budget reconciliation that covers infrastructure, jobs and climate change, and apply the third one that they believe they are owed to focus on additional issues.
“I believe that big, bold action is an imperative. We must get that done. And we prefer our Republican colleagues to work with us on these things. Many of the things I mentioned are bipartisan in the sense that a majority of Republicans support them,” Schumer said last week.
“If they don’t, our caucus will come together and we will discuss the best way to produce that big, bold action. And as I’ve said before, everything, everything is on the table,” he concluded.
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The big question is: Can Democrats use a third budget reconciliation to pass the comprehensive marijuana reform bill that is supposed to be introduced soon? Sadly, no. Anything related to marijuana legalization would not be achievable in this manner. This issue fits in along the lines of the $15 per hour minimum wage deal that Democrats attempted to squeeze in the latest coronavirus relief effort. They tried, but in the end, nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough said the increase couldn’t be done under budget reconciliation. And that was that.
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It’s possible, though, that Democrats will attempt to push the boundaries of budget reconciliation once again to get some kind of cannabis reform on the books. Maybe the SAFE Banking Act — a simple bill that allows banks to do business with the cannabis industry — could be slipped in and passed with a simple majority. But the interpretation of the reconciliation and its boundaries will be up to the parliamentarian.
As for now, Democrats haven’t made any decision regarding legislative strategy. But suddenly, and very interestingly, MacDonough, whose job is to interpret the rules, has become the most influential person in the nation’s capital.