July 10, 2012

With the Supreme Court’s ruling on healthcare, do you think the battle of healthcare is over?  Not so fast.  Over the next several months, expect to hear a lot more about the word “reconciliation.”

Remember it?  The last time Congress used it, reconciliation played a key role in passing the healthcare bill.  In case you don’t recall, Congress passed the healthcare bill in a two-step process.  The first part was the underlying healthcare reform bill; the second part was the healthcare reconciliation bill.  Why did they need to use reconciliation?  The House refused to pass the Senate healthcare bill as-is and with the Senate Democrats no longer maintaining a filibuster-proof majority, reconciliation was used to effectively bypass the filibuster majority and to make changes to the Senate-passed healthcare bill.

Reconciliation, created in 1974 by the Congressional Budget Act, was primarily designed to fast-track legislation that has a budgetary impact.  In practice, this means that reconciliation-backed legislation can pass with a simple majority vote, prohibiting the 60-proof vote filibuster from being used.  According to Martin Gold, an expert on Senate rules and procedures:

Reconciliation bills must affect the deficit, and their predominant impact has to be fiscal. A bill that is mostly intended to make a policy change, but carries some incidental economic impact, isn’t eligible for reconciliation.

Why does this matter?  In recent days, some in Washington have discussed using reconciliation to pick apart some of the President’s healthcare reforms.  According to the Hill, the Senate parliamentarian will be the official referee on if such a bill qualifies for reconciliation.

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