Rep. Scott Garrett's Reconciliation Primer

The president argues that we have come too far and we are too close to start a new, truly bipartisan health care bill from scratch. This bill will affect every American and every American born for generations to come. How can we say, in good conscience, that this doesn’t deserve every minute of debate, every rewrite, every committee hearing, and every floor vote until it is something comprehensive, fiscally responsible, and economically feasible for every American?

"You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America," said President Obama at the GOP Congressional retreat in late January. This is an interesting point, however, it is backwards. Our constituents, the American people we represent, have been telling us, not the other way around, that the administration’s policies are going to destroy America.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation has been getting a lot of attention lately. As a matter of fact, it has been getting all of the attention lately. It is difficult to find a news show, a newspaper, a radio program, or a magazine that hasn’t been talking about this controversial topic. Senate Democrats will be using the only piece of momentum they have left to try to bypass the normal Senate proceedings and force the ensuing disaster that is health care on the American people.

Cramming an overwhelming government overhaul through the Senate without a thorough conversation is a disservice to the American people. The Senate needs 60 votes to break a filibuster and with a unified Republican caucus standing up for taxpayers and responsible spending, the majority in the Senate does not have enough votes to end debate on the bill. As a result, the majority has decided to bring reconciliation into the equation.

Reconciliation is a process that ends debate and allows a budget to be passed with a simple 51 vote majority. A reconciliation bill is only to be used to change spending, taxes, or the debt limit. Unlike a normal bill, debate time is limited to 20 hours, amendments must be related to the bill, and amendments must not violate the Byrd Rule.

The Byrd Rule

While reconciliation seems impenetrable, there are measures in place to ensure topics in the limited debate directly relate to the budgetary issues at hand. The most notable measure, and a term that has been thrown around a lot lately, is the “Byrd Rule,” named after Senator Robert Byrd. The “Byrd Rule” is a 1990 amendment to the Budget Act that prohibits “extraneous” provisions from being included in a reconciliation bill.  Essentially, a provision must have an impact on the budget to be included in a reconciliation bill.  The “Byrd Rule” also prohibits changes to Social Security, even that have a budget impact, from being included in a reconciliation bill.

If the Democrat leadership decides to go with reconciliation, many components of the health care legislation, especially the government option, are particularly vulnerable to removal by tenets of the Byrd Rule. If the Byrd Rule is used correctly, the health care bill that emerges from the Senate might resemble a shell of its former self.

The timeline for this process is as follows: The House of Representatives would pass the Senate health care bill, including kickbacks and back-room deals that had to be made in order for it to pass the Senate. After that, the House would pass a reconciliation bill with revisions to the Senate bill, and then the Senate would take up the reconciliation bill. In the end, there are two bills that would be enacted -- the health care bill and then the revisions to the health care bill.

There have been twenty-two instances of reconciliation bills passed by Congress. These bills were much closer to the nature of the rule, to make budgetary policy and making the tax and spending changes recommended by the budget resolution, not a backdoor tactic to pass controversial legislation.

Bipartisan Opposition

The health care proposal is receiving bipartisan opposition and only partisan support.  The president can’t even keep his own party convinced to stay on board. Americans across the country have banded together and demanded that Congress consider new ideas which include cutting spending.

The Democrat majority wants to blame a lack of “getting things done” in Washington on an obstructionist minority. In reality, ensuring deliberate consideration of legislation was a great part of the reasons we have separated powers. We have separation from the state and federal levels, separation of powers in the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches of government, and a bicameral legislature. The purpose of all of this -- slowing down the decision making process.

Citizens across our country have organized into many groups who are calling for slowing down the legislative process. Ideas need to be worked out, argued over, and compromised on. The idea of “pushing through” the currently proposed health care bill goes against every instinct of American democracy.