The procedural rules of the United States Senate are often complicated and arcane. That's fine, sort of, under ideal circumstances, but we're in the middle of a climate crisis and Bernie Sanders simply doesn't have time for that shit. On Wednesday, following the announcement that Senate Democrats plan to move forward with a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill, the senator from Vermont told reporters that the package will include a clean energy standard that would require future energy production to come from renewable sources.
The inclusion of this policy is controversial not because of what it is trying to accomplish — in fact, many environmental activists view a clean energy standard as essential to achieving the goal of reducing carbon emissions. Instead, the hang-up comes from the fact that mandate is tucked away in a bill that will have to pass through reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure designed to pass budget-related legislation through the Senate with a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes.
The idea that a clean energy standard might end up in the Democrats' reconciliation bill has been on the table for weeks, according to a report from Axios. But there have been fears that the Senate parliamentarian may take issue with the policy.
A quick trip into the weeds here: The Senate parliamentarian is essentially the rule interpreter for the upper chamber, and it is up to them to determine if a proposal can qualify for reconciliation. In order to pass through the process, it must be shown to have an effect on revenue rather than be a nonbudgetary policy. The parliamentarian gets to make the call.
Sanders simply does not care about all this. He's trying to get as much done as quickly as possible and is willing to push all the buttons and pull all the levers to do so. Sanders has been calling for an end to the filibuster for quite some time now, but until that happens he's basically daring the Senate parliamentarian to tell him and his fellow Democrats that they can't pass a clean energy standard through budget reconciliation.
When asked how he expected the parliamentarian to interpret the bill, Sanders told the press, "You'll have to ask the parliamentarian." That's about the most polite "I could not give a fuck" that you're ever going to get.
The parliamentarian has had an outsized impact on the early months of the Biden administration, nixing an effort to include an increase to the minimum wage in a coronavirus relief package and weighing in on attempts to cancel student debt through the reconciliation process. With Biden already backing off his promises for ambitious climate legislation by throwing his weight behind a bipartisan infrastructure bill that only tackles roads and bridges, circumventing byzantine Senate procedures seems to be the last hope for meaningful legislation to address climate change this year.