Reconciliation

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For the sacrament of the Catholic Church sometimes called Reconciliation, see Confession.

Reconciliation is the process of bringing former enemies or antagonists to a state of peaceable coexistence. This can be applied to individuals, communities, or nations. A major example of institutional reconciliation was the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, established to deal with the wounds left by Apartheid.

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Budget reconciliation

Main article: Reconciliation bill

In American politics, reconciliation, also referred to as the 'nuclear option', is a method of voting by a simple majority instead of a higher vote required by the Senate's cloture (anti-filibuster) rules. The budget reconciliation process is intended for budget matters after both the House and the Senate have adopted both a Budget resolution and individual appropriation bills without filibusters on those votes. In 2010, the Democratic controlled Congress included a majority vote threshold for health care reform legislation as one of the provisions of the budget resolution. This gave the Senate Democrats the right to bring the PPACA (Obamacare Act) to a vote without a filibuster after the Democrats lost their 60th Senate vote with the death of Senator Edward Kennedy.

The budget reconciliation process was created in 1974 as part of the law[1] that created much of the modern rules and organizational structures used by Congress to pass the annual budget. Prior to that time, Congress would pass appropriation bills to authorize government spending for each fiscal year.

This 1974 law required Congress to pass a budget resolution every year that would set the parameters by which the various congressional appropriation committees would write their specific parts of the total appropriation. The law also moved the start of each fiscal year from July 1 to October 1 to give Congress an additional three month each year to work on appropriation bills.

Within these budget resolutions, instructions can be given to specific congressional committees to create legislation that would alter current laws affecting spending and/or taxation in order to conform to the targets set out in the budget resolution.

To enhance Congress’ ability to meet budget resolution targets, these pieces of legislation are not passed under the normal rules of the Senate, which allow filibusters. Instead, they fall under the “budget reconciliation process” rules which prohibit unrelated amendments to the bills and set a maximum of 20 hours of debate on the floor. As a practical matter, this means only 51 votes are needed to pass a reconciliation bill because the limit on debate overrides the threat of a filibuster.

The Byrd Rule to Prevent Abuse of Reconciliation

While the budget reconciliation process was a success in its principal goal of giving Congress more power to meet the spending and revenue goals of the budget resolution, it quickly became prone to abuse.

Provisions that had nothing to do with meeting budget resolution requirements, even some that directly contradicted them, were passed using the reconciliation process.

To prevent this, the so-called “Byrd Rule,” named after Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, who introduced the legislation, was passed in 1985 and made permanent in 1990.

The Byrd Rule allows any senator to raise a point of order objection to provisions in a reconciliation bill that they consider extraneous to meeting budget resolutions requirements. Then, it is up to the chair – either the Vice President (as President of the Senate) or, more often, the presiding officer of the Senate if the Vice President is not present -- whether that provision stays or is stricken.

However, the chair almost always relies on the advice of the Senate Parliamentarian to determine if that objection is legitimate.[2]

This determination is made based on six tests created as part of the Byrd Rule used to weed out provisions that have nothing to do with raising or reducing taxes or spending. It takes a 3/5 majority vote to override the decision of the presiding officer if he or she finds that a provision violates one or more of these tests.[3]

Budget reconciliation has been used for 22 bills, of which, 14 were passed by Republican majorities. Nineteen of those bills were signed into law by the President. Three were vetoed.[4] All bills were directly related to taxation and spending, and since 1985, have successfully met the Byrd rule tests.

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