February 25th, 2010
02:27 PM ET

CNN Fact Check: How common is Senate use of reconciliation?

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Emma Lacey-Bordeaux

Reconciliation sure sounds like a nice word, but it is getting a lot of negative attention around Washington. Senators from both sides of the aisle have criticized the idea of using budget reconciliation to overhaul health care.

In the health care summit Thursday, Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, called upon President Barack Obama to renounce the very idea, calling reconciliation "a partisan vote through a little-used process." But this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said legislation has passed under budget-reconciliation rules 21 times since 1981, and critics should "stop crying about reconciliation as if it's never been done before."

As the health care debate evolves into strategy sessions to overcome the threat of filibuster, the CNN Fact Check Desk wondered: How common is reconciliation?

Fact Check: Has reconciliation been used 21 times since 1981?

- Reconciliation was established by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. A reconciliation bill is one that reconciles law with budget resolutions passed by Congress. Reconciliation was established, in part, to lower the bar for passing tough deficit-reducing legislation.

- Debate on reconciliation measures in the Senate is limited to 20 hours. While this sounds like a lot of time to debate, normally the Senate can debate indefinitely unless cloture is invoked. Since cloture requires a three-fifths vote - 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate - the 41 Republicans in the Senate can hold up a bill like health care by continuing debate indefinitely. By skipping the cloture process, reconciliation would allow Democrats to pass a health care bill in the Senate over the unanimous opposition of Republicans.

- Likewise, the House Rules Committee typically will limit the debate on a reconciliation measure.

- According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, 22 bills have been sent to presidents through the use of reconciliation from 1981 to 2008. Three of those bills were vetoed by President Bill Clinton. The report's author, Robert Keith, told CNN that reconciliation has not been used since 2008.

- Many of the 19 reconciliation measures that became law since 1981
involved substantive policy issues such as federal health care programs, tax exemptions and Social Security.

Bottom Line:

Reid got the number slightly wrong. According to the CRS, reconciliatio has been used 22 times since 1981. Additionally, reconciliation has been used frequently in the past to change important federal policies.

Filed under: Health Care • President Barack Obama
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. A. Smith, Oregon

    I'm helping to pay for these clowns to do their Democratic jobs. They should certainly know what reconciliation is and how it can be used. If the Senate Majority leader does know about reconciliation, or is reluctant to use reconciliation, get rid of him!

    Reconciliation should be used time and time again with a gridlock in the Senate chambers over endless filibusters and a acting Congress which is passing laws and bills onto the Senate floor for passage.

    Get it done! Let the Republicans scream and cry over bills being forced down their throats! American's want the Democrats to get it done!

    February 25, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  2. Lesley Anne

    They had no problem pushing through tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans via reconciliation not once but twice during Bush's 1st term in office. So it appears to be do as I say, not what I do. It is fake but not the way you're implying.

    February 25, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  3. Tim Gibson

    All well and said, yet, control taken from the private sector and given to the federal sector all under the fake umbrella of what is best for the people, as with Reids count, that is just slighty wrong, but in a very big way.

    February 25, 2010 at 3:13 pm |