“One should not assume that the parliamentary terrain cannot be changed, because we did it dramatically and changed the entire way the Senate approaches legislation 31 years ago,” said Steve Bell, a former Republican staff director of the Senate Budget Committee who helped write the first major reconciliation bill in 1981 and is now a senior economic adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
According to some experts, Republicans would have a legal basis to turn off the Byrd rule in a joint budget resolution, based on the “elastic clause” of the Budget Act of 1974 that gives lawmakers leeway to establish new procedures in a budget resolution. Should the Senate parliamentarian object, Republicans could proceed anyway because the parliamentarian technically serves only in an advisory role.
Although Republicans previously have worked within the constraints of the Byrd rule, their appetite for pushing the limits of majority rule appears to have grown since Democrats managed to reshape the health care system without a single Republican vote.
Still, not everyone is interested in escalating the procedural arms race. Concern about using reconciliation to pass a tax overhaul appears to be particularly strong among Republicans who sit on tax-writing panels. They fear that Republicans could commit to reconciliation and end up passing another temporary bill that does nothing to alleviate the uncertainty created by the present system.
Another concern is that a measure advanced only by Republicans would be less popular and perhaps even less substantive than one with support from Democrats.
Among Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee and Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, “there has been a lot of interest in creating clear lines of communication, mutual understanding of each chamber’s priorities and an appreciation of the general outline of what could look like the best way to proceed,” said Eric Ueland, a former Senate Republican leadership aide who now works as a lobbyist. “And not all of that can be easily reflected in a reconciliation process, which drives you to starker decision-making.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.