Kevin Brady of Texas Announces That He’ll Retire from Congress

Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, announced on Wednesday that he would retire from Congress at the end of this term after more than two decades in the House.

Mr. Brady, who first won his seat in the state’s Eighth Congressional district in 1996, is the latest seasoned lawmaker to announce his retirement in recent months.

“Is this because I’ve lost faith in a partisan Congress and the political system? Absolutely not,” Mr. Brady said in remarks announcing his departure at an economic conference. “In the end, I’ll leave Congress the way I entered it, with the absolute belief that we are a remarkable nation — the greatest in history.”

Mr. Brady is just the third Texan to lead the House Ways and Means Committee as chairman, overseeing the committee’s successful passage of the 2017 tax overhaul before Democrats won control of the House in 2018.

But should Republicans take back the House in 2022, Mr. Brady would not be allowed to take back the chairmanship because of term limits in the Republican conference.

“Did that factor into the decision? Yeah, some,” Mr. Brady acknowledged. But he said that the committee term limits ensured that a variety of members would be able to rise through the ranks of the conference, and he “remained confident in its future.”

The committee’s current chairman, Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, said that he and Mr. Brady’s relationship was predicated “on doing our best for this country we both love so dearly.”

“With the time he has left on the dais, I look forward to once again coming together and tackling the unfinished business of the committee, starting with overhauling our nation’s infrastructure,” Mr. Neal said. “He has left his mark on this great committee, and I wish him and his family all the best in what’s to come.”

Representative Filemón Vela, Democrat of Texas, has also announced his plans to retire at the end of the 117th Congress.

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Manchin Says He Will Never Back Weakening Filibuster

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key moderate Democrat, on Wednesday reaffirmed his vow to protect the filibuster in the evenly divided Senate and suggested reluctance to his party repeatedly using a fast-track budget process to advance legislation without Republican votes.

Mr. Manchin has long been one of the most stalwart defenders of the 60-vote threshold needed to end debate in the upper chamber, even as it threatens to derail key elements of President Biden’s agenda. Despite previously toying with possible reforms to the procedural hurdle, he has repeatedly swatted away queries about what could drive him to vote to outright abolish the filibuster, even as Democrats have gamed out various scenarios in which he might relent.

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post, Mr. Manchin vowed that there was “no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” and he urged party leaders to compromise on legislation instead of trying to work around Republican opposition. Ten Republicans are currently needed to join all Democrats in a 50-50 Senate to pass major pieces of legislation through the regular process.

The comments took on added significance after a key Senate official on Monday issued guidance that could allow Democrats to pursue the fast-track budget reconciliation process at least one more time before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, after they used it to pass Mr. Biden’s nearly $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law without any Republican votes.

“We will not solve our nation’s problems in one Congress if we seek only partisan solutions,” Mr. Manchin wrote. “Instead of fixating on eliminating the filibuster or shortcutting the legislative process through budget reconciliation, it is time we do our jobs.”

Pressure has mounted for Democrats to further push the boundaries of what a majority party can do unilaterally when in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, in order to deliver on a series of campaign promises. While Democrats do not yet have the votes to abolish the filibuster, they have explored other avenues to ensure Mr. Biden’s agenda becomes law.

In recent days, that has included expanding the frequency of reconciliation, which allows certain budgetary legislation to clear both chambers on a simple majority vote. While Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, appears to have agreed with the Democratic argument that they can use the process multiple times in one fiscal year, it remains unclear how and when they might employ those possible opportunities, and for what.

While Mr. Manchin did not outright refuse to support another use of the fast-track reconciliation process, he challenged both parties to work together and compromise on critical pieces of legislation, including infrastructure and tax changes. Any use of reconciliation would require Mr. Manchin — and virtually every congressional Democrat — to remain united behind the legislation.

“Senate Democrats must avoid the temptation to abandon our Republican colleagues on important national issues,” Mr. Manchin wrote. “Republicans, however, have a responsibility to stop saying no, and participate in finding real compromise with Democrats.”

While many questions remain about how Democrats could potentially use another chance at reconciliation, both Mr. Biden and congressional leaders insist they want to work with Republicans to reach compromises, particularly on the sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure proposal the White House just unveiled.

“There are things we’re working on together — some of which we’ve passed and some we will pass,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday. He suggested a group of 10 Republican senators who sought to compromise on his pandemic relief plan did not do enough to jump start negotiations with their initial $618 billion plan. “If they come forward with a plan that did the bulk of it and it was a billion — three or four, two or three — that allowed me to have pieces of all that was in there, I would have been prepared to compromise, but they didn’t,” he added.

The group of 10 Republican senators later issued a joint statement Wednesday evening arguing that the proposal had been “a first offer to the White House designed to open bipartisan negotiations” that instead had been dismissed “as wholly inadequate in order to justify its go-it-alone strategy.”

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Democrats Win Crucial Tool to Enact Biden’s Plans, Including Infrastructure

WASHINGTON — A top Senate official ruled on Monday that Democrats could use the fast-track budget reconciliation process for a second time this fiscal year, potentially handing them broader power to push through President Biden’s agenda, including his infrastructure plan, over Republican opposition.

The decision by the parliamentarian means that Democrats can essentially reopen the budget plan they passed in February and add directives to enact the infrastructure package or other initiatives, shielding them from a filibuster that requires 60 votes to overcome.

It came as Democratic leaders were contemplating how to use their slim majorities in the House and Senate to enact Mr. Biden’s infrastructure proposals, including a huge public-works plan he released last week and a second initiative to be released in the coming months to address economic inequities, provide paid leave to workers and support child care.

But the decision has potential significance beyond those plans, and even the current Congress. The guidance could substantially weaken the filibuster by allowing the majority party to use budget reconciliation — a powerful tool that allows measures related to taxes and spending to pass on a majority vote — multiple times in a single fiscal year. That would dilute the power of the minority to stall or block such legislation in the Senate, the latest bid by the party in power to chip away at the arcane filibuster rules.

It was not clear how Democrats would use their newfound power, or for what. But the preliminary guidance from Elizabeth MacDonough, the parliamentarian, most likely gives them additional opportunities to push elements of Mr. Biden’s agenda through the 50-to-50 Senate without abolishing the filibuster or watering down their proposals to win at least 10 Republican votes.

Democrats had already used budget reconciliation to push through Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus last month without any Republican votes. But with some Democrats reluctant to dismantle the filibuster, the rest of Mr. Biden’s agenda risks stalling amid Republican objections.

Seeking alternative avenues, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, had argued that the rules allowed the Senate to revisit the budget blueprint that allowed for passage of the pandemic relief plan and take at least one more crack at reconciliation before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Because there was no precedent for doing so, he asked Ms. MacDonough, a nonpartisan civil servant who interprets Senate rules, for guidance. On Monday, she blessed the maneuver, according to Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer, who said that “some parameters still need to be worked out.”

The ruling “allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues,” Mr. Goodman said in a statement, calling the opinion “an important step forward” in ensuring that “this key pathway is available to Democrats if needed.”

Democrats already had two more opportunities to use the reconciliation process during the 117th Congress, under budget blueprints for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. But the ruling from Ms. MacDonough allows them to use the maneuver at least two more times during this calendar year alone, and could further increase the opportunities for them to do so before the end of 2022.

The option does not guarantee a smooth path for Mr. Biden’s agenda; with narrow majorities in both chambers, party leaders will have to keep Democrats almost entirely united to be able to use the maneuver successfully. And reconciliation is subject to strict budgetary rules that limit what can be included.

Top Democratic officials have declined to say when they will use the budget tool again. But lawmakers and aides have floated a number of possibilities, ranging from infrastructure to immigration, that could be steered around Republican objections and into law.

“It’s important because it gives us a little more flexibility — we don’t have to push everything into one package,” Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is chairman of the Budget Committee, said on MSNBC, listing a number of priorities he wanted to pass. “The ruling of the parliamentarian gives us a little bit more opportunity in that direction.”

Progressive lawmakers have increasingly agitated for a change to the rules of the Senate that would allow the party to dismantle the filibuster.

But any effort to pass further legislation with a simple majority will be considerably more difficult than it was with the stimulus package, which cleared both chambers and became law in less than three months. Democrats are already haggling over what should be included in the infrastructure plan, and how to pay for it.

Republicans, who have largely criticized Mr. Biden’s agenda, are likely to object to any use of the tool, which would virtually cut them out of the process. Reconciliation also consumes a substantial amount of floor time, which could otherwise be used for approving administration nominees and judicial appointments.

“There are more opportunities to run the obstacle course and risk all the dangers, but you still have to run the obstacle course,” said Zach Moller, deputy director of the economic program at Third Way, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, and a former aide on the Senate Budget Committee. “The process and the painfulness of budget reconciliation is still required to go through here.”

Several Democrats have said they hope for bipartisan support for their initiatives, including Mr. Biden’s infrastructure proposal. But taking a cue from the president, they have also begun to argue that they have support from Republican voters and local officials, even if Republican lawmakers in Washington have objected to the plan.

Some Republicans balked at Mr. Schumer’s parsing of budgetary law, saying it suggested that congressional Democrats had no genuine interest in negotiating the details of an infrastructure plan, let alone more politically charged issues like immigration reform.

“It should be subjected to extensive hearings in both the House and the Senate, and not rammed through,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said of the infrastructure package in an interview last week. But the attempt to expand the use of reconciliation, she said, “seems to signal what direction they want to go in.”

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