Reconciliation (U.S. Congress)

Reconciliation (U.S. Congress)

Reconciliation is a legislative process of the United States Senate intended to allow a contentious budget bill to be considered without being subject to filibuster. Reconciliation also applies in the United States House of Representatives, but since the House regularly passes rules that constrain debate and amendment, the reconciliation process represented less of a change in that body.


The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 created reconciliation. (See USPL|93|344, § 310; USStat|88|297; USC|2|641.) But Congress came to use it in the 1980s. Congress used reconciliation to enact President Bill Clinton's 1993 (fiscal year 1994) budget. (See USPL|103|66, USStat|107|312.) President Clinton wanted to use reconciliation to pass his health care plan, but Senator Robert Byrd insisted that the health care plan was out of bounds for a process that is theoretically about budgets.


To trigger the reconciliation process, Congress passes a concurrent resolution on the budget instructing one or more committees to report changes in law affecting the budget by a certain date. If the budget instructs more than one committee, then those committees send their recommendations to the Budget Committee of their House, and the Budget Committee packages the recommendations into a single omnibus bill. In the Senate, the reconciliation bill then gets only 20 hours of debate, and amendments are limited. Because reconciliation limits debate and amendment, the process empowers the majority party.

Until 1996, reconciliation was limited to deficit reduction, but in 1996 the Senate adopted a precedent to apply reconciliation to any legislation affecting the budget, even legislation that would worsen the deficit. Under the administration of President George W. Bush, Congress has used reconciliation to enact three major tax cuts. Senate Republicans have repeatedly, though unsuccessfully, tried to use reconciliation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Byrd Rule

Reconciliation generally involves legislation that changes the budget deficit (or conceivably, the surplus). The "Byrd Rule" (USC|2|644) outlines what reconciliation can and cannot be used for. The Byrd Rule defines a provision to be extraneous in six cases:
*(1) if it does not produce a change in outlays or revenues;
*(2) if it produces an outlay increase or revenue decrease when the instructed committee is not in compliance with its instructions;
*(3) if it is outside the jurisdiction of the committee that submitted the title or provision for inclusion in the reconciliation measure;
*(4) if it produces a change in outlays or revenues which is merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision;
*(5) if it would increase the deficit for a fiscal year beyond those covered by the reconciliation measure, though the provisions in question may receive an exception if they in total in a Title of the measure net to a reduction in the deficit; and
*(6) if it recommends changes in Social Security.

If a provision violates the Byrd Rule, then any Senator may raise a procedural objection and unless 60 Senators vote to waive the objection, then the offending provision will be stripped from the bill.


Reconciliation bills have included:

* Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1980, USPL|96|499 (1980)
* Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, USPL|97|35 (1981)
* Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1982, USPL|97|253 (1982)
* Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA), USPL|97|248 (1982)
* Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1983, USPL|98|270 (1984)
* Deficit Reduction Act of 1984 (DEFRA), USPL|98|369 (1984)
* Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA), USPL|99|272 (1986)
* Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, USPL|99|509 (1986)
* Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, USPL|100|203 (1987)
* Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989, USPL|101|239 (1989)
* Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, USPL|101|508 (1990).
* Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, USPL|103|66 (1990).
* Balanced Budget Act of 1995, USBill|104|H.R.|2491 (vetoed December 6, 1995)
* Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, USPL|104|193 (1996)
* Balanced Budget Act of 1997, USPL|105|33 (1997)
* Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, USPL|105|34 (1997)
* Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999, USBill|106|H.R.|2488 (vetoed September 23, 1999)
* Marriage Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2000, USBill|106|H.R.|4810 (vetoed August 5, 2000)
* Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA), USPL|107|16 (2001)
* Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, USPL|108|27 (2003)
* Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, USPL|109|171 (2006)
* Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (TIPRA), USPL|109|222 (2006)
* College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, USPL|110|84 (2007)

Further reading

*Dauster, Bill. [ “The Day the Senate Died: Budget Measure Weakens Minority.”] "Roll Call", 30 May 1996, 5, reprinted in "Congressional Record" (12 June 1996), vol. 142, S6135-36.
*Dauster, Bill. [ "The Monster That Ate the United States Senate."] "Public Budgeting and Finance", vol. 18, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 87-93.
*Frumin, Alan S. "Congressional Budget" in " [ Riddick's Senate Procedure,] " 502-642. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1992.
*Keith, Robert, and Bill Henniff Jr. [ "The Budget Reconciliation Process: House and Senate Procedures."] Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2005.
*Keith, Robert. " [ The Budget Reconciliation Process: The Senate’s “Byrd Rule”] " Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2005.
*Smith, Hedrick. "The Power Game". New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. ISBN 0-394-55447-7

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