Reconciliation: It‘s a term federal budget experts would understand, but to the rest of us, it sounds like what you do with a family member you haven’t spoken to in years. It’s also the process Congressional Democrats plan to use to pass President Joe Biden‘s $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 bailout and stimulus bill in the Senate. We asked Raymond Scheppach, who is a public policy scholar at the University of Virginia and a former deputy director of the Congressional Budget Office, to describe the reconciliation and explain why its use is now causing so much controversy. in Congress? Reconciliation is a legislative process originally intended to reduce federal budget deficits. In 1974, lawmakers decided they had to deal with a recurring problem: If more money was spent than expected or revenues fell short of projections, the nation’s deficit grew. But reducing deficits is politically difficult; To do so, Congress needed to increase revenue, cut spending, or both. Typically, that meant reducing fees and other mandatory expenses, such as nutritional assistance for children, or increasing taxes.
So lawmakers created this process called “reconciliation” that could be used to reconcile actual spending with spending targets previously adopted by Congress. Here’s the key part that addressed the problems lawmakers faced in cutting spending or raising taxes: Budget moves made under reconciliation couldn’t be obstructed. Lawmakers believed this could alleviate the political difficulty associated with long-term deficit reduction. An important point: the reconciliation could be used only to change taxes, mandatory expenses like agricultural price support, and entitlements like Social Security or Medicare. Does the use of reconciliation for the COVID-19 bill represent a hijacking of the original purpose of the process? It is important to look back at the 1974 Act to determine the purpose of the reconciliation provision and how it has changed over time. A provision that was created in 1974 to reduce deficits is now used to do the opposite: dramatically increase deficits. So, contrary to the original purpose of reconciliation, it was used for the 2001, 2003 and 2017 tax cuts, which increased deficits substantially. Congress could do that because restrictions on the use of reconciliation in the Senate have been lowered over time, so significant tax cuts or overhead bills are now allowed. It was also used inappropriately to pass amendments to the Affordable Care Act, which significantly increased spending while also generating enough revenue to offset the expense. Although it was neutral from a budget point of view, it did not reduce the deficit. The $ 1.9 billion Biden COVID-19 bill would also be an inappropriate use relative to the original intent of the provision, as it would substantially increase the deficit. How often has reconciliation been used? The reconciliation provision has been used by both parties more than 21 times since the 1980s. In some cases, such as the Omnibus Reconciliation Laws of 1990 and 1993, the main objective was to cut spending and increase revenue. Each of those laws reduced the deficit by just over $ 700 billion in five years. For President Biden and the Democrats on Capitol Hill, there are some clear advantages to using the reconciliation process. It would prioritize consideration of the $ 1.9 trillion bill, in legislative terms. This means that the debate can be limited, but more importantly, it cannot be obstructed in the Senate, as it only requires 51 votes instead of 60 to pass. As long as all 50 Democrats are willing to vote in favor, then the vice president, also a Democrat, can cast the 51st deciding vote. This process is much more important in the Senate than it is in the House of Representatives, which has a rules committee that can limit debate and amendments. A fact sheet on reconciliation, produced by the House budget committee in 2020, says: “Reconciliation is a tool, a special process, that makes legislation easier to pass in the Senate.” Are there other reasons why lawmakers would want to use reconciliation? Because it only requires a simple majority of votes, legislation can be passed relatively quickly under reconciliation rules rather than going through time-consuming negotiation to arrive at a bipartisan bill. Given that most of the money in President Biden’s bill is to tackle COVID-19 and stabilize a damaged economy, the administration believes timing is critical. The faster the bill can be enacted, the faster schools can fully reopen, vaccinations can be administered, and the unemployed can find work. Under the rules, most years there can only be one reconciliation invoice. But because it wasn’t used last year, Biden and the Democrats will be able to make two this year. This means they could use reconciliation for this $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill and then another reconciliation bill later in the year on climate change or infrastructure or any other major priority. No other important Democratic priorities should be sacrificed if reconciliation is used at this time, which is another political advantage, although using reconciliation to pass these policies would again violate the original intent of the process. Another form of power politics, imposing legislation instead of considering minority views? The Senate often operates on historical precedents and therefore the longer term questions are: What is the effect of using reconciliation in the Senate as an institution? How does it affect minority rights and even democracy itself? Perhaps the most significant negative effect is that it has reduced the minority party’s rights to shape legislation, often leading to more extreme policies. Minority party involvement in lawmaking often forces politics toward the middle of the political spectrum, where the majority of Americans live. But what we see more often now is the minority party refusing to commit to the majority party in legislation. That may force the majority to take the path of reconciliation. However, I believe that passing legislation through reconciliation exacerbates voter frustration and weakens democracy. Now Read: Here’s Why The Senate Obstruction Rule Could Be Safely Abolished. Raymond Scheppach is professor of public policy at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. This was first published by The Conversation: “Why does using reconciliation to pass Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus bill violate the original purpose of the process?”