US CONGRESS RULES

What is a reconciliation bill and how is it different from a regular bill?

Senate Democrats look to pass another major spending bill through reconciliation. How do these bills differ from ones passed through normal means?

What is a reconciliation bill and how is it different from a regular bill?
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After negotiations on President Biden’s American Jobs Plan fell apart, a group of Democratic and Republican Senators drafted a bill that makes more traditional investments in physical infrastructure. The American Jobs Plan had included other measures targeting human infrastructure and workers in the care economy, which were excluded from the bipartisan bill.

This package has support from the White House. Still, the President is also looking for other opportunities to pass parts of his economic agenda left out of the bipartisan agreement.

Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled a reconciliation bill totaling over 3.5 trillion dollars that includes many of the popular provisions of the American Families Plan and the American Jobs Plan, like making the changes to the Child Tax Credit permanent.

What types of bills can be passed through reconciliation?

A reconciliation bill differs from a standard Senate resolution in a variety of ways.

Types of Bills

The Senate can only use the reconciliation process to pass two bills each year. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, reconciliation is allowed under the Congressional Budget Act, which allows “for legislation that changes spending, revenues, and the federal debt limit.”

To use the reconciliation process, a budget resolution that consists of reconciliation directives for various Senate committees must be brought forward. 

Reconciliation directives provide lawmakers with broad oversight power as they do “not detail what specific legislative changes a committee should adopt to meet its numerical targets.” The committee then formulates elements of a bill that will form part of the reconciliation package, keeping in mind that none of the amendments can increase the deficit.

Reconciliation rules and voting

From a single budget resolution, "two reconciliation bills: a tax-and-spending bill or a spending-only bill and, if desired, a separate debt limit bill." Senate rules state that in most cases, only two reconciliation bills can be passed each fiscal year.

Unlike normal Senate resolutions, reconciliation only requires a simple majority -- 51 votes -- to pass. However, since there is a limit on the number of times reconciliation can be used, the party in power is limited in thier ability to skirt the filibuster.

Filibuster

For most bills to become law in the Senate, they must pass with sixty votes.

This threshold has stalled efforts to pass immigration reform, police and criminal justice reform, and more. The sixty-vote minimum is called the filibuster.

The filibuster has been a long-standing tool of the Senate, and until 1975, the number of votes needed for legislation to pass was even higher at 66 votes.

Efforts have grown in recent years to eliminate the filibuster because of how hard it makes passing legislation, even those with vast public support.,The Senate’s own website describes the filibuster as "an effective means to block legislation.” Many historians have also highlighted how in the twentieth century, Senators from the South used the filibuster to “block civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching bills," and that it was not "until 1964 did the Senate successfully overcome a filibuster to pass a major civil rights bill.”

For Democrats hoping to hold or expand their majority on Capitol Hill in the 2022 Mid-Terms, using reconciliation may be the only way to enact the legislative agenda that they ran on.

 What bills have been published through budget reconciliation recently?

Since 2015, two significant bills have been passed using reconciliation, the first is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, passed under President Trump.

The second is the American Rescue Plan, passed in March which enhanced the Child Tax Credit and included funding for a third $1,400 stimulus check. Not a single Republican was willing to vote on the trillion-dollar stimulus package, forcing the hand of Democrats to use budget reconciliation.

Who is the Senate Parliamentarian and what do they do?

The current Senate Parlimentarian is Elizabeth MacDonough, who has served in the role since 2012.

The job of the Parliamentarian is “to provide expert advice and assistance on questions relating to the meaning and application of that chamber's legislative rules, precedents, and practices.

Source: House of Representative

Initially, Sen. Sanders proposed an amendment to raise the federal minimum wage to $15.

However, a few weeks before, the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that it violated the reconciliation rules, leading all Republicans and eight Democrats to vote against the amendment.

In the current reconciliation bill, led by Bernie Sanders, the Senate Parliamentarian may have to decide whether lawmakers can include a path to citizenship for  DACA recipients.