There’s no way Democrats could break a Republican filibuster and gather the 60 votes needed to pass highly consequential legislation like the party’s $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill that would, in the words of The New York Times, “touch virtually every American’s life, from conception to aged infirmity.” There’s also no way Democrats could eliminate the filibuster entirely with just 50 senators, since not all of them are on board for doing it.
So here comes the trick. There is a method in Senate rules for getting around a filibuster and passing a bill with a simple majority, or even a tie, plus the vice president. It is called reconciliation. The problem for Democrats is, reconciliation can only be used a limited number of times, usually once a year, and it must be done only with a budget bill — the idea being that a minority should not be able to use the filibuster to keep Congress from passing a budget for the United States government. But it’s only about the budget; to be included in a reconciliation measure, a proposal must be “germane” to the budget. It can’t be just any policy whim. It must have a real budgetary impact.
But Democrats had an idea. We don’t have enough votes to kill the filibuster and pass big parts of our agenda, they reasoned, so let’s just throw everything into one gigantic budget reconciliation bill. We can even throw immigration reform in there. Sure, that’s not what reconciliation is for. But let’s just do it and see if we can get away with it. That way, we could get around the filibuster and pass a New Deal-sized bill without even controlling a majority of seats in the Senate.