Jon Walker had a post earlier today noting published reports that the Democrats would not pursue reconciliation instructions in their budget resolution, making it impossible to pass any legislation with a 50-vote threshold. This would represent a surrender of a key tool to make progress without relying on Republicans who are hell-bent on obstruction.

Somewhere along the line that changed, and today the budget resolution does look like it will have reconciliation instructions in it. But let me highlight the caveat emptor here:

The budget resolution being drafted by Senate Democrats will include reconciliation instructions, according to Democrats briefed on the matter.

The reconciliation instructions, which allow legislation to move through the upper chamber with a simple majority instead of 60 votes, will be included to ease the passage of deficit reduction measures, according to Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee.

But the reconciliation language could also be used to pass the extension of expiring tax cuts, job-creation measures and energy legislation, according to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

“There are many different areas it could be used,” he said.

Yes, Sen. Cardin, I’m sure there are many areas where it could be used, but only one where it will – to make the kind of deficit reduction cuts that we’re likely to see come out of the Bowles-Simpson commission. The executive order creating that commission mandated that their recommendations would need a supermajority in both chambers. But there’s no reason why the Senate couldn’t mirror those recommendations and make a reconciliation bill out of them, one that would only require 51 votes. The President has stressed deficit reduction as a priority for this coming year, and reconciliation could offer a vehicle for it, to sidestep concerns by liberal Senators.

Conrad’s budget resolution will be ridiculously austere given the jobs crisis:

Conrad has said he wants to go further than Obama has proposed in reducing deficits. While Obama’s budget would cut a deficit that will equal 10 percent of gross domestic product this year to roughly 4 percent by 2014, Conrad has set a target of 3 percent for his budget.

It wasn’t immediately clear to which provisions the reconciliation instructions would apply, though the language is often broad in order to allow committees latitude in using the rules.

At a time when we have a huge shortfall in aggregate demand, we should be widening and not reducing the deficit in the short term. This is basic economics. The deficit fever on Capitol Hill is directly responsible for why so many people aren’t feeling the economic recovery, and will lead to much wider losses for Democrats in November than necessary.

The good news is that the reconciliation instructions are broad enough, and the process loose enough, with the possibility for unlimited amendments, that virtually everything is in play if they go ahead with a reconciliation bill. Here’s Bernie Sanders:

“What we want to do is end up with legislation that is going to create a substantial number of jobs,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “We don’t have 60 votes to do that. We could do that through majority rule, 51 votes.”

“I would also hope we could have a public option as well,” Sanders added, referring to a government-run health plan for those younger than 65 that could compete with private insurers.

So there’s an opportunity here, an organizing opportunity to force the Senate into passing something as good as student loan reform through reconciliation while they have the ability. However, first the demand must be that the House and Senate pass a budget resolution at all – there’s talk that they won’t.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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