This week Congress passed $1.9 trillion in COVID relief by a partisan vote as the reconciliation process allows for a simple majority rather than the typical 60 vote threshold in the Senate. Fresh off its passage, House Democrats say they could start the process in July for a second budget reconciliation bill with the same partisan approach to advance other Democrat priorities including infrastructure, climate change, health care and immigration overhaul.
“Reconciliation is always Plan B,” says House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky. “We would all prefer not to use it. But you know, I think the climate stuff will be in it, to the extent we can get climate stuff in it. There'll be some health care stuff in it, I think. People want to try to do parts of immigration reform in it,” according to a report in Roll Call.
Many of the policies championed by the Biden administration and Democrats have the ability to find some across-the-political-aisle support. COVID relief is a prime example. The past five packages passed in 2020 saw bipartisan support. However, the reconciliation process sought by Democrats to start off 2021 left Republicans out of any discussions to find bipartisan solutions.
We saw Democrats capitalize on this first reconciliation bill to divert $5 billion to farmers of color and offering a win on the racial equity front. Meanwhile the COVID relief bill failed to allocate funds for broadband or rural infrastructure more related to the disparities truly revealed during the pandemic and guised under COVID relief. During the markup, House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., said often that he supported attempts by Republicans to increase funds for things such as rural broadband, but any amendment in the reconciliation process would “derail” the overall package.
Climate change was an issue previously not discussed by farmers, however, there’s a growing consensus across party lines the opportunity that voluntary, market-based opportunities could offer to reward farmers for the actions they’re taking to sequester carbon and allow for new income streams. The Senate’s bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act offers members from both sides of the aisle working to advance the role farmers can play in mitigating the climate.
Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committee’s first official committee hearings focused on the topic of climate change, featuring witnesses and support from Democrats and Republicans. So as Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member John Boozman, R-Ark., expressed Thursday morning in the Senate’s climate hearing, he’s disappointed House leaders are looking to utilize the budget reconciliation process again this year to advance climate change policies, rather than action that starts at the committee level and allows for input throughout the process.
“Budget reconciliation has unfortunately become a partisan process that does not take into consideration the views of the minority at all. Climate change poses many complexities for the agriculture sector, and input from the Republican members of this committee should be taken into consideration,” Boozman says.
As Boozman adds, these issues should be tackled on a bipartisan basis.
“I would implore the agriculture and forestry stakeholder groups to consider whether this is an appropriate path forward to establish policies on an issue as important and complex as this. There is too much at stake for the agriculture sector and rural America for climate policies to be advanced in this manner.”
The same can be said for issues such as immigration, where just last week we saw the House re-introduce a bipartisan solution to address issues facing the agricultural sector in terms of labor. Does the reconciliation process risk the ability to come together and offer amendments to improve base bills such as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and earn more members’ support?
Infrastructure is another clear opportunity for bipartisan wins, rather than ongoing partisan pushing of policies. With fewer House members from a rural district, it does intensify the need for agricultural voices to be heard. If we see a repeat of the top-down approach that we saw play out in the latest reconciliation process, rural America especially could face increased risk of losing out on proper funding for crucial infrastructure investments that keep U.S. agriculture competitive.
Typically, Congress can only use the reconciliation process once per fiscal year. However, because last year legislators passed a continuing resolution allowing for budgets to be approved this legislative year, Democrats who are now in control have the ability to use it for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years.
The first step in pursuing a second reconciliation bill would be the adoption of a fiscal 2022 budget resolution. That measure would provide “instructions” to authorizing committees to draft various pieces of the package.
Democrats are not the only ones who have used the simple majority to advance major policies, most notably the Obamacare passage when Democrats held the majority in both Houses. Reconciliation was used by Republican leaders to advance the 2017 tax cuts, which did not bring any members across party lines to secure approval.
However, Democrats’ use twice in one year and the kitchen sink approach for all their priorities could threaten much needed bipartisanship and unity those in rural America so desperately need to find the right solutions to some complex problems.