GOP Plans to Deploy Obscure Rule as Weapon Against Spending Bill

Source: By Ari Natter, Bloomberg • Posted: Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Senate Democrats must tread a narrow path to ensure passage Republicans are likely to challenge provision on drug prices

Robert Byrd in 2010.
Robert Byrd in 2010.Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Republicans are using an obscure rule named for the Senate’s longest-serving member to challenge provisions of the Democrats’ surprise tax, health and climate deal in the hopes of whittling down the legislation.

They’re  planning to challenge many of the provisions in the 725-page, $433 billion bill using the so-called Byrd Rule, which sharply limits the ability to pass legislation with a simple majority, a process known as reconciliation.

The rule, named for the late Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, allows individual pieces of a measure to be challenged on the grounds that they are incidental or extraneous to the budget. It was used successfully by Republicans to knock out immigration reform from a previous version of the Democratic package.

“We’ll try and challenge everything we possibly can,” Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said in an interview in the Capitol Monday. “If we can knock it all out that would be a good thing.”

Other non-climate aspects of Democrats $433 billion spending bill, which could receive a Senate vote this week using the budget reconciliation process, could face Republican objections as well. Senator Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, said measures related to lowering prescription drug prices was “going to be Byrd-able.”

Read: Here’s What’s in Democrats’ $370 Billion Climate Spending Deal

“There is a lot in there that is not pertaining to increasing or decreasing the revenue of the federal government,” Cassidy said in an interview. “A lot of this is totally, totally unrelated to reconciliation.”

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One advantage Democrats might have this time around however, is that the centerpiece of the legislation, hundreds of billions in new and expanded tax credits for renewable energy, nuclear power, hydrogen, electric vehicles, along with other climate-related  priorities were retained from previous versions of the bill and have been reviewed by Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, said Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who serves on the Senate’s tax writing committee.

Manchin, who succeeded Byrd in the Senate, said Monday that “I think we looked at that pretty much beforehand to make sure that we didn’t put something in there that could be you know, from her standpoint, might not fit.”

“We’re very careful about that,” he told reporters.

Made in North America

Cardin added that Democrats are still waiting for Republicans to raise specific objections. Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said the process had been slowed because they were still waiting for detailed cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

A revision that requires automakers to use increasing amounts of battery components made in North America to get access to the full $7,500 vehicle consumer tax credit could be ripe for a Byrd rule challenge, said Bill Hoagland, a former Republican budget director in the Senate now with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Democrats’ proposal to pay higher “bonus rates” for several energy tax credits to companies that meet criteria such as paying their workers prevailing wages, use domestically sourced materials such as steel and iron, and having apprenticeship programs could be successfully challenged as well, Hoagland said.

“They are pushing the envelope,” said Hoagland said in a telephone interview. “Historically that is kind of yellow flag.”