At best, Republicans could use their votes to avert the impending cliff as leverage to win GOP politics in negotiations later this year. Worst-case, they could allow the cuts as punishment for the Democrats who used the reconciliation instrument to negate GOP input as the majority party pushes Biden’s package to go ahead with just 51 votes in the Senate.
“I don’t know whether to be concerned or not,” said John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), Chairman of the house’s budget, in an interview. “I was told not to worry.”
The solution could be as simple as adding a language to must-pass legislation before the cuts come in mid-January, as Congress previously did with little fanfare. However, unlike a law of reconciliation, this solution cannot pass the Senate by a simple majority and requires the signature of 10 Senate Republicans.
“Everyone doesn’t seem to care,” said Yarmuth. “I don’t know, I’ve been told it’s pretty superficial that we’re making it.”
The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did not respond to two requests for comment on whether Republicans would help cut the mandatory expenses resulting from Biden’s pandemic relief plan.
In “normal” times, “Republicans would be almost certain to go along,” said David Wessel, a director of the centrist Brookings Institution.
“But these are not common times, and you can’t be sure Republicans would agree,” said Wessel, who heads the Brookings Hutchins Center for Tax and Monetary Policy. “I think there is a small but significant risk that Republicans will use this as a lever to get something from the Democrats.”
Both parties have repeatedly voted to forego the rule and avoid the cuts in other major reconciliation packages. Democrats joined Republicans to avert $ 150 billion cuts that would have been triggered by the 2017 tax overhaul, including a $ 25 billion portion of Medicare. The then-Congressional Budget Office noted that certain programs, such as the Obamacare Public Health and Prevention Fund, had virtually been wiped out.
Similarly, when it came to Obama-era stimulus legislation and several George W. Bush tax cut packages, lawmakers stopped any division.
However, some on Capitol Hill say times have changed.
“Although the Democrats came forward to protect Medicare and other programs from significant cuts after Republicans used the reconciliation to pass tax cuts for the rich, we need to be realistic that Republicans are less likely to do the same for us.” said a Democratic adviser to the House. who asked to stay in the background to openly discuss the concerns.
“Are we really going to find 10 Senate Republicans to prevent these cuts after they find Jesus back in the national debt? Let’s be real, ”the aide said in a statement. “There’s a good chance they’ll allow these cuts and mark the Democrats as the ones to blame, as we have total power in Congress and the White House.”
Two other senior Democratic advisors completely dismissed the threat, saying concerns about the cuts that have come into effect have not risen as both the House and Senate are summarizing the details of Biden’s bill.
“This is not a problem,” said a senior Democratic adviser. “This is not something to worry about because we know that every time this problem has occurred in the past, it has always been fixed.”
Provisions to avert the cuts could be added to must-pass laws like annual spending bills to ensure that it would be politically costly for Republicans to vote against waiving the cuts.
“So are you ready to shut down the government in exchange for cuts?” said the adjutant. “Nobody is going to allow Medicare or farm workers programs to be cut because of the reconciliation bill … I can guarantee you that.”
Democrats are also considering using reconciliation twice in this session – once to pass Biden’s pandemic relief plan and again to push through a massive climate and infrastructure package. This legislation would also add to the cuts that Congress must avoid.
Matthew Dickerson, a director of the Conservative Heritage Foundation, said Republicans could offer their assistance to prevent the reduction in exchange for more measured steps to reduce the nation’s debt and deficit, such as an agreement to curb spending on compulsory programs.
“It’s a useful lever for Republicans,” said Dickerson, who heads the Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget. “We can’t spend as much as we spend.”