There has been some discussion over the past couple of months that Senate Majority Chuck Schumer might employ some clever finagling to bypass the 60-vote supermajority requirement to push through a comprehensive marijuana reform bill. As it stands, an old rule known as the filibuster is in the way of Schumer securing the votes necessary to make legal weed a reality. But if he could wrap it up in a budget reconciliation proposal, there’s a chance it would pass with a simple majority.
If the term budget reconciliation sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the only way Democrats have been able to get anything accomplished in the past few months. The budget reconciliation process allows the Senate to pass bills with a simple majority (51 votes), basically moving a bill through the upper chamber without Republican support. This is how they passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill, despite Republicans throwing a fit about how it would cripple America.
The problem with this tactic, however, is the controlling party can typically only use it once per fiscal year.
But Schumer, leaning on Section 304 of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act, believed Democrats had additional budget reconciliations coming to them. And if that was the case, he might try to include a long-awaited marijuana reform proposal into another resolution. Schumer admitted that was possible in a recent press conference. He told reporters that he’d confirm in a few weeks.
The next move seemed contingent on a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough.
Democrats soon received good news.
In April, the Senate parliamentarian determined that the party did, in fact, have additional budget reconciliation options at their disposal. “The Parliamentarian has advised that a revised budget resolution may contain budget reconciliation instructions. This confirms the Leader’s interpretation of the Budget Act and allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues,” Schumer’s spokesman said, according to The Hill.
Yet, it seems that Schumer may have over embellished just how much authority these reconciliations would give them. A recent report from Punchbowl News suggests that the parliamentarian’s ruling puts strict limits on what Democrats can do with their newly green-lit option.
“The majority party — in this case, the Democrats — cannot use reconciliation simply to avoid the regular legislative process, and there have to be reasons beyond political expediency for triggering the majority threshold, such as an economic downturn,” the news source wrote of MacDonough’s decision. “In other words, the parliamentarian said Dems can’t use this as a shortcut.”
Although Democrats thought they had two more automatic budget reconciliations to use this year, MacDonough’s ruling leaves them with one. Schumer has only one shot at passing critical items in the Biden agenda. And trying to convince the president that marijuana legalization needs to be a part of the deal probably isn’t going to fly.
Biden’s focus is on his American Jobs Plan, American Families Plan, and a Medicare expansion. Those efforts were initially supposed to be split between the two budget resolutions, but now Schumer must find a way to get it all done with one. Schumer would be hard-pressed to convince the Biden administration to squeeze in weed. After all, Biden isn’t even sure whether full blown legalization is the right thing to do.
Even trying to force a revision to another budget resolution must endure the full committee and amendment process. That’s where Republicans could swoop in and jam up a vote. Senate Democrats just don’t have enough of a majority to use the budget reconciliation process to their full advantage this year. Any misstep at this point could blow Biden’s agenda out of the water.
So, it appears that Schumer will have to walk a narrow line to further the greater good of the Democratic party. This could mean that his highly publicized plans to push a comprehensive cannabis reform measure could be put on hold. It just doesn’t appear that the Senate parliamentarian will allow the Democrats to toss any old issue over their shoulders and carry it to the finish line with the budget reconciliation process.
Marijuana legalization will likely need to be done through regular legislative means (and be subject to the GOP filibuster). Unfortunately, trying to legalize weed nationwide in this manner spells nothing but certain death.