Explain (in an easy to understand way) Budget Reconciliation in the Senate? And its impact on health care reform this year?
April 30, 2009 4:23 AM   Subscribe

Explain (in an easy to understand way) Budget Reconciliation in the Senate? And its impact on health care reform this year?

Here are a couple articles that explain it to some degree and a page from wikipedia. I'm looking for a single step by step answer that outlines the process, the reasoning behind the process and its impact on Obama-led health care reform.

Also, the Washington Post article says "...refused to authorize the use of reconciliation for his plan to cap greenhouse gas emissions." Why not?
posted by paulinsanjuan to Law & Government (8 answers total)
An overly simple explanation: In the Senate, a bill passes with only a 60-vote majority (on most issues). Reconciliation makes that hurdle 50, not 60 - a simple majority of votes will pass any bill. So, because the House is so dominated by Dems, and because a bill can move through the House with a simple majority of Dem votes, then the process of reconciliation will make it much easier for Obama to pass whatever he wants. He won't have to rely on the votes of Arlen Specter, the two Senators from Maine, and stubborn conservative Dems like Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh. So the impact on health reform is thus: without reconciliation, reform doesn't look likely. With reconciliation, reform becomes much, much easier.
posted by billysumday at 4:29 AM on April 30, 2009

So why not have reconciliation on every issue?
posted by paulinsanjuan at 4:34 AM on April 30, 2009

Because it's an extraordinary step and is only to be used on issues that demand immediate attention. There are, basically, constitutional rules here that are being stepped around, and some people (Robert Byrd, D-WV) are very touchy about stuff like that. The fact is, the Republicans used reconciliation during the Bush tax cuts, so their outrage now is a little disingenuous. But there is a legitimate argument to be made that it's not in the best of the interest of the Senate to change the rules whenever you want to pass a bill. At some point, the Dems will be in the minority, and they will want their voices to be heard and their influence to be felt. In reconciliation, the Republicans now will basically have no power - out of 100 Senators, there are about 48 relatively liberal Senators and 12 conservative Dems. All debate will be between the conservative dems and liberals - the Republicans might as well go take a vacation down at Myrtle Beach.
posted by billysumday at 4:53 AM on April 30, 2009

The Senate has a tradition of conservatism with a small "c". They see themselves as being a bulwark against political fads which are more likely to affect the House, and tend to be more deliberative. The filibuster is a Senate rule, and it's seen generally as being a defense against making radical changes on a whim.

The filibuster has been changed, by the way. It used to require two thirds of the Senate to approve cloture; 34 could block it. On the other hand, filibusters used to be much more rare.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:00 AM on April 30, 2009

Reconciliation is the way to resolve contentious issues in the Senate. Healtchare reform in the US is a contentious issue and Obama wants it done. So they've put it in the budget as an option. Some say it closes off negotiations on Healthcare but I think that depends on how bullheaded the individual Senators are. Either they can negotiate and get a say in healthcare or they pout on the sidelines and wind up with something they hate. A reasonable person would negotiate (grumbling all the while no doubt), but reasonable doesn't sound like the GOP lately.

As to the process, here's a snippet from the NY Times: "Under the reconciliation process, the House and the Senate first agree on an overall budget blueprint and then pursue legislation — in this case, the health care overhaul — “reconciling” the blueprint with the needed policy changes. If enough Senate Democrats support the legislation, the White House would not need a single Republican vote."

It was decided to include the reconciliation on April 24th. The chief problem I see with using it is that only 20 hours of debate are allowed, which isn't a lot and was one of the reasons that Senator Byrd didn't let President Clinton use it in the '90s debate on healthcare (see the history part of the Wikipedia link).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:23 AM on April 30, 2009


How does this sound?

1. An Obama-led health care reform has an incredible chance of being passed this year.

2. Currently, there are 59 senators (with Sen. Arlen Specter's flip to the Dem party) and, quite possibly 60 if Al Franken is seated, that would potentially vote with President Obama's agenda. This could bust a Filibuster and would lead the way to passing Health Care Reform bills in the Senate and House.

3. On the floor of the Senate, a Filibuster allows a senator, or series of senators, to speak for as long as they want on any topic (although this isn't necessarily required anymore). This effectively stalls a bill or motion.

4. Reconciliation is a legislative process that can introduce budget bills that can go around a Filibuster.

5. So, as a backup plan, included in the recently passed joint congressional budget (S.Con.Res.13) was a Reconciliation which could allow the introduction of health care reform bills by Oct. 15 that would only need 50 votes (plus Vice Pres Biden's tiebreaker if needed) instead of a Filibuster-proof 60.

6. Basically, this means if Congress isn't able to pass any bi-partisan health care reform bills between now and Oct 15., we would have a backup option that would only need 50 votes from the Senate.
posted by paulinsanjuan at 6:48 AM on April 30, 2009

It should also be noted that there are rules that prevent reconciliation from being used on every issue, it's just for stuff related to the budget. See the Byrd Rule section of the Wikipedia link.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:50 AM on April 30, 2009

Number 2 assumes that all Democrats would vote for it, which is a big assumption. Also, reconciliation was added to the budget before Specter became a Democrat, so 60 Democrat votes wasn't even a possibility. It was probably seen as the only way Healthcare Reform could happen.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:06 AM on April 30, 2009

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