• Reconciliation: Its use and history
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     | March 05,2010
     

    Senate rules known as budget reconciliation

    Since 1990, the Senate has used reconciliation to pass 13 key pieces of legislation. Ten of the efforts were pushed by the Republican party; three uses of reconciliation were by Democrats. More often than not, the votes fall along party lines, but in a few cases the reconciliation vote has either garnered wide bi-partisan support or exposed ideological rifts within the minority party.

    Here is a look at the different bills that passed via reconciliation. This review takes Senate vote records covering 13 key reconciliation votes from 1990 to 2007 to show how senators in both parties voted on a variety of reconciliation bills.

    Reconciliation is a legislative process in the Senate commonly used to pass legislation concerning spending, revenues or the debt-limit. The process has been used 22 times since 1974, primarily by Republicans. More often than not, these bills have been vehicles for large reforms in the tax code, health care and other social programs from education to welfare. One key reason that reconciliation is used for major reforms is that the process is subject to different rules than other bills. Most importantly, reconciliation bills are not subject to cloture votes-the 60 vote supermajority procedure to overcome a filibuster-and thus only require a 50 vote majority to pass.

    The voting record shows that reconciliation is often used as a way to pass otherwise contentious legislation that could not receive sufficient bipartisan support to reach the 60 vote supermajority necessary to clear a cloture vote. Seven of the thirteen reconciliation measures examined here passed between 1990 and 2007 were almost universally opposed by the minority party while gaining almost total unity in support from the majority using the reconciliation process.

    These seven reconciliation bills include the following:

    1) The Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1993, also known as the 1993 Clinton budget. The vote went 50-50 with Vice President Al Gore breaking the tie. Five Democrats defected to vote "Nay" with 45 Republicans.

    2) The Balanced Budget Act of 1995, which sought cuts in Medicaid and welfare programs, restructuring of Medicare and major tax cuts. The vote split 52-47 with one Republican defecting to vote with 46 Democrats against the bill. The bill was ultimately vetoed by President Clinton.

    3) The Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999, a package of tax cuts and health care reforms. The vote split 54-46 with three Republicans defecting to vote with 43 Democrats against the bill. The bill was ultimately vetoed by President Clinton.

    4) The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, commonly known as the Bush tax cuts. The vote split 58-34 with twelve Democrats supporting the bill with 46 Republicans and two Republicans defecting to oppose the bill with 31 Democrats.

    5) The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, further tax cuts. The vote split 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote. Two Democrats defected to support the bill with 48 Republicans and three Republicans defected to oppose the bill with 47 Democrats.

    6) The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which included cuts in Medicaid and Medicare. The vote split 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote. Four Republicans defected to oppose the bill with 46 Democrats. No Democrats voted for the bill.

    7) The Tax Increase Prevention and Reduction Act of 2005, an extension of tax cuts. The vote split 54-43 with three Democrats defecting to support the bill with 51 Republicans and three Republicans defecting to oppose the bill with 41 Democrats.

    One reconciliation bill split mostly along party lines, but was still able to gather the 60 votes that would normally be enough to clear a cloture vote. This bill was:

    1) Marriage Tax Penalty Relief Reconciliation Act of 2000, which reduced certain taxes for married couples. The vote split 60-34 with seven Democrats voting with 53 Republicans to support the bill and one Republican voting with 33 Democrats to oppose it. The bill was ultimately vetoed by President Clinton.

    On the other hand, only three of the thirteen reconciliation bills garnered wide support from both parties. These were:

    1) The Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which included reductions in Medicare payments and the creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The vote was 85-15 with twelve Republicans and three Democrats opposing the bill.

    2) The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, a tax cut package that also included education savings measures. The vote was 92-8 with eight Democrats opposing the bill.

    3) The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007, which increased federal funding and loans for higher education. The vote was 79-12 with twelve Republicans opposing the bill.

    Two bills caused significant splits within the parties. In one case, both parties were almost equally split in their support or opposition. In another case, only the minority Democrats were split. These were:

    1) The Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1990, which included tax increases proposed by President George H.W. Bush. The vote split 54-45 with 35 Democrats and 19 Republicans voting in support of the bill and 20 Democrats and 25 Republicans voting in opposition.

    2) The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which contained welfare reform. The vote split 78-21 with the Democrats splitting 25 in support and 21 opposed to the legislation.

    Most of the 100 sitting senators previously cast votes on at least one of these reconciliation bills. Some have voted on all 13 of them.



    The Sunlight Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to using cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable.

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