Here Comes “Reconciliation”
The House and Senate have passed their respective budget resolutions – and they’re pretty much on time. It’s a pleasant surprise, because it was looking like the annual budget process was going to go off the rails.
But they have until April 15th to mold their two plans into one. A conference committee with members from both the House and Senate will do that magic. And they can probably do it on schedule.
The final budget starts a process in motion called “reconciliation.” The budget has instructions in it that tell the relevant congressional committees to propose changes in existing law that fit with the budget plan.
There’s no problem with Congress telling itself to put together some legislation, of course, but there’s something about reconciliation that’s very important: Reconciliation is subject to different procedures in the Senate.
Normally, Senate rules require 60 votes to take a bill to final consideration. It’s called the “cloture rule.” A “cloture vote” is on whether a bill should proceed to a final vote, and it’s often the most important vote because a bill that passes cloture is almost sure to pass on the final vote.
A reconciliation bill isn’t subject to the cloture rule. That means that it only takes 50 votes to get the bill to final consideration and passage.
Normally, the Senate is the slower, more careful House of Congress. George Washington is said to have told Thomas Jefferson that the Framers of the Constitution created the Senate to “cool” the legislation coming out of the House the way a saucer was used to cool hot tea.
During the reconciliation process, the Senate can be just as rash as the House, which is a little worrisome. There are some big issues that might fly through Congress on reconciliation this year – like health care, education, and energy/greenhouse gasses/climate change.
The Washington Post editorialized about it this morning. It’s worth a read. And it’s worth knowing about reconciliation because big things can happen in that process.