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Legislative Process 101—Budget Reconciliation

Normally, the Senate requires a 60-vote majority to pass any legislation—a high bar that makes it hard for the Senate to quickly pass major pieces of legislation. This is intentional. It’s supposed to prevent the majority party from jamming legislation through the Senate. Budget Reconciliation, often referred to as just reconciliation, is a legislative maneuver that allows the majority to get around this 60-vote safeguard. Reconciliation lets the Senate majority bypass the filibuster process, allowing them to pass legislation with 50 votes, instead of the normal 60. This document explains how reconciliation works.

The Reconciliation Process

Congress can only use reconciliation once for any budget they pass.

  • First, Congress passes a budget resolution, which specifies how much money each Congressional committee is expected to save.
  • Then, each of those committees acts, and each chamber’s Budget Committee puts it all together and votes on it.
  • Finally, the full chamber votes on the bill and it’s passed by a simple majority.

Because the Constitution prohibits the Senate from originating legislation dealing with revenues, reconciliation measures generally start in the House.

Reconciliation matters the most in the Senate.

The Senate can take up a House-passed bill straight away, or work its own bill through the Senate committee process. Reconciliation bills cannot be blocked through a filibuster (which is why there is no 60-vote threshold) and have limited debate time. However, an unlimited number of amendments (as long as they don’t cost money) can be offered during that debate. When time’s up, the Senate takes a vote which requires a simple majority for passage. If changes are made to the bill, it will then go back to the House for a final vote before being sent to the President for his signature or veto.

Limitations

Because reconciliation is a budget procedure, originally intended to reduce the deficit, only policy changes directly impacting government spending or taxes may be included. Before a reconciliation bill is voted on, it goes through a “Byrd bath” (Congress can be silly) to ensure that the bill does not contain any unrelated provisions, beyond those impacting taxes or spending.