Senate gives Biden a big tool to work around GOP filibuster

WASHINGTON — With a powerful new tool, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has fresh options for potentially advancing President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package and other priorities past Republican obstruction in the 50-50 split Senate.

Republicans still pledge to do all they can to halt Biden, but an official parliamentarian’s opinion this week is a potential game-changer. It unleashes multiple options for Democrats to advance parts of Biden’s agenda — including immigration and Medicare legislation — with 51 votes in the 100-member Senate rather than the 60 typically needed to move major legislation past filibuster threats.

There has been talk of trying to change the filibuster rules, but that would be a very heavy political lift in the divided and tradition-devoted Senate.

The White House was heartened by the parliamentarian’s ruling but isn’t giving up on support from some Republicans, despite their strong opposition to paying for much of the infrastructure plan with a corporate tax increase. The president, said press secretary Jen Psaki, “continues to believe … that there is a bipartisan path forward.”

However, it is clear that the deep partisan polarization in Washington has led to a new era in legislating. The seasoned policy wonks on Capitol Hill are digging deep into the procedural toolbox to find ways around the gridlock that typically leaves Congress at a standstill.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell chided Biden for partisanship, and declared Tuesday that his side would not be supporting the $2.3 trillion infrastructure package that Biden wants to pay for with the tax hike on corporations.

“For a president who ran as a bipartisan, I haven’t seen that yet,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky.

McConnell said Biden is a “terrific person I know him well, I like him. We’ve been friends for years. A moderate he has not been.”

While congressional Democrats had already planned on resorting to “budget reconciliation,” a special, budget-linked procedure with a 51-vote threshold to pass parts of Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, the parliamentarian’s ruling opens the door to using it on certain other priorities.

Talks are swirling around an immigration overhaul that could provide a pathway to citizenship for some. There is also discussion about using the process to lower the Medicare retirement age from 65 to 60 and other agenda items.