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‘Byrd bath,’ long nights await senators in December sprint

Parliamentary scrubbing on reconciliation package might not be wrapped up until next week

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during the Senate Democrats’ news conference in the Capitol on Nov. 30.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during the Senate Democrats’ news conference in the Capitol on Nov. 30. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate committees have been updating the House-passed $2.2 trillion climate and social spending package text to ensure it complies with budget reconciliation rules, but most have yet to begin the formal review process with the Senate parliamentarian known as “the Byrd bath.”

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer sent a “Dear Colleague” letter on Monday reiterating his goal to pass the legislation in the Senate before Christmas. But the update he provided on the procedural steps needed to get there suggests senators will be lucky if they can meet that deadline. 

Schumer said Senate committees are continuing informal conversations with Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough about their pieces of the package and “making necessary technical and ‘Byrd proofing’ edits to the House bill.” The Byrd rule requires any policy changes made through reconciliation to have more than a “merely incidental” impact on the budget, among other restrictions.

“On Friday and Saturday, 8 of the 12 Senate committees that were given Reconciliation instructions submitted their final Senate text to the Parliamentarian, the Congressional Budget Office and the Senate Republicans,” Schumer wrote. “Our goal is to finalize the remaining committees over the course of this week and next.”

Schumer did not say which eight committees had finalized text, but he said the Senate Finance and Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions panels, which have the two largest pieces of the package, were among the four outstanding. Those two committees are set to have their final informal, Democratic-only briefings with the parliamentarian on Monday and Tuesday.

After text is completed, Republicans will propose Byrd challenges to various provisions they think have only a merely incidental impact on the budget. This triggers the formal parliamentarian review, also known as “the Byrd bath,” in which Democratic and Republican staff will present arguments on why the provisions should or should not be included in the reconciliation package. 

Schumer noted that process has begun for some of the immigration-related provisions, which are among the most vulnerable under the Byrd rule.

“The remaining provisions will begin the Byrd Bath process after all of the final text is submitted and the premeetings with the Parliamentarian are complete,” he said.

If Democrats don’t finalize all the text until late this week at the earliest, that leaves only two weeks before Christmas to conduct the Byrd bath process and pass the legislation on the floor, which involves a “vote-a-rama” allowing for unlimited amendments. 

Republicans last week said they expected to challenge many provisions, which could drag out the Byrd bath process and delay floor consideration. 

“A lot of their agenda should be voted out because it won’t meet the requirements of having a direct impact on spending and revenues,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D. 

Lengthy to-do list

Complicating Schumer’s goal of passing the reconciliation package by Christmas is the limited availability of floor time and a long list of legislation that lawmakers need or want to pass before the end of the year. 

Schumer in his letter specifically mentioned the debt limit, the annual defense authorization bill and voting rights legislation.

He said the Senate would process nominations this week and expects to take up a bicameral version of the defense bill, which he warned could involve weekend votes if senators don’t cooperate and allow unanimous consent requests to limit debate time.

Notably, Schumer didn’t say the Senate would act on the statutory debt limit this week. Senate leaders have privately discussed attaching debt ceiling language to the defense bill, though House leaders have warned that approach might have difficulty getting through that chamber.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has urged Congress to raise or suspend the $28.9 trillion debt limit by Dec. 15, citing uncertainty that it would be able to pay the government’s financial obligations beyond that date. 

Lawmakers also need a vehicle to waive statutory pay-as-you-go rules that otherwise could lead to deep spending cuts in Medicare reimbursements, farm subsidies and more starting in mid-January.

Leaders in both chambers are also trying to squeeze in legislation to avert separate 2 percent across-the-board Medicare cuts as well as scheduled reductions in physician reimbursements and payments for clinical laboratory services, which the House could take up as soon as Tuesday. It wasn’t yet clear how long a delay of the cuts would run.

Sources familiar with the discussions said negotiators are considering another extension of the current Medicare “sequester” at the end of the 10-year budget window to offset the cost. In April, lawmakers paid for the most recent Medicare cuts delay by extending scheduled cuts and increasing the percentage reduction to 4 percent for part of fiscal 2030.

“I will continue to remind you that there are more long days and nights, and potentially weekends, that the Senate will be in session this month,” Schumer wrote in his Monday letter to senators.

Lauren Clason and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.