One word that has been swirling around the health care reform debate of late is “reconciliation.” Much debate has occurred over whether or not certain Democrats in Congress will use this as a means to pass health care reform measures. Despite the fact that the majority of Americans do not wish for reconciliation to be used, Congress may need to use such an approach in order to have a sufficient number of votes for the bill to pass. Reconciliation doesn’t deal with the actual legislative policy but with the procedure by which the such a bill may pass through the Senate. It entails having only a simple majority of 51 votes needed to pass a bill as – opposed to the normal 60 votes:
According to the OpenCongress website:
The budget reconciliation process allows for any legislation with an impact on the budget deficit to come to a final vote after a maximum of 20 hours of debate. That means that the minority party cannot filibuster beyond 20 hours, and that the legislation would need a simple majority of 51 votes in favor to pass (not the 60 that it takes to break a filibuster). This procedure was established in federal law, which was approved by Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon. It has been used 21 times, by both Democratic and Republican Congress’, since its establishment in 1974.
This essentially would render the minority party unable to filibuster a bill to prevent its passage. This differs from the “nuclear” option that prevents filibusters by parliamentary procedure (i.e., a change in Senate rules), making only a simple majority necessary to pass bills.
Reconciliation was established in 1974 as a means of passing budgetary and taxation measures in order to “reconcile” them with previously approved measures. For example, if in the process of crafting a budget, Congress recognizes that deficits are growing too much, reconciliation procedures allow for spending cuts or tax increases to compensate. The House rules state, ” the reconciliation process is utilized when Congress issues directives to legislate policy changes in mandatory spending (entitlements) or revenue programs (tax laws) to achieve the goals in spending and revenue contemplated by the budget resolution.” In 1984, the Senate adopted what became known at the “Byrd rule” which re-emphasized that reconciliation cannot be used for “extraneous” issues outside of budgetary or tax issues.
Congress has utilized reconciliation 21 times since 1980. Seventeen of these bills were signed into law. With the exception of two bills, reconciliation has been used solely for budgetary measures. In 1986, the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA) was passed, and it contained some health care reforms. In 2007, the College Cost Reduction Access Act was passed using reconciliation.
It can argued that components of the health care bill such as various mandates for health insurance and coverage of abortion would not be allowed to be contained in the bill if reconciliation is the method of passage, as these aspects of the bill are not budgetary in nature. The question we must ask ourselves in any situation when reconciliation is proposed is this: Is it being used properly? This isn’t an issue of political ideology or Right or Left; it is an issue of Congress obeying its own rules and ensuring that our representatives are truly representing us.