Reconciling with the Past

With President Obama and Congressional Democrats intent on one last push for health care reform, the main Republican talking point is outrage over the likely use of the reconciliation process to pass a separate House-Senate compromise. The Republicans' best hopes of killing health reform rest on the use of a filibuster in the Senate. But bills considered under reconciliation cannot be filibustered and therefore can pass the Senate by a simple majority vote.

Bill Frist, a former Senate majority leader, called reconciliation an "arcane" procedure that Congress has "never used . . . to adopt major, substantive policy change." Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee asserted that this parliamentary tactic was unprecedented for a bill like health reform. Senator John McCain of Arizona said that the use of reconciliation would have "cataclysmic effects."

So, would reconciliation represent an anomalous and dangerous power grab? This chart, which lists 15 major reconciliation bills passed by Congress since the process was first used in 1980, provides evidence for assessing that charge.

While the use of reconciliation in this case is new, it is compatible with the law, Senate rules and the framers' intent.

Reconciliation was intended to be a narrow procedure to bring revenues and spending into conformity with the levels set in the annual budget resolution. But it quickly became much more. The 22 reconciliation bills so far passed by Congress (three of which were vetoed by President Bill Clinton) have included all manner of budgetary and policy measures: deficit reductions and increases; social policy bills like welfare reform; major changes in Medicare and Medicaid; large tax cuts; and small adjustments in existing law. Neither party has been shy about using this process to avoid dilatory tactics in the Senate; Republicans have in fact been more willing to do so than Democrats.

The history is clear: While the use of reconciliation in this case--amending a bill that has already passed the Senate via cloture--is new, it is compatible with the law, Senate rules and the framers' intent.

Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at AEI. Thomas E. Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Raffaela Wakeman is a research assistant at Brookings. Fogelson-Lubliner is a graphic design studio in Brooklyn.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Norman J.
Ornstein

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 20
    MON
  • 21
    TUE
  • 22
    WED
  • 23
    THU
  • 24
    FRI
Monday, October 20, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Warfare beneath the waves: The undersea domain in Asia

We welcome you to join us for a panel discussion of the undersea military competition occurring in Asia and what it means for the United States and its allies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters

AEI’s Election Watch is back! Please join us for two sessions of the longest-running election program in Washington, DC. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
What now for the Common Core?

We welcome you to join us at AEI for a discussion of what’s next for the Common Core.

Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Brazil’s presidential election: Real challenges, real choices

Please join AEI for a discussion examining each candidate’s platform and prospects for victory and the impact that a possible shift toward free-market policies in Brazil might have on South America as a whole.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.