Reconciliation and the Byrd Rule

Blog Articles · Feb 3, 2021 · Budget and Spending

Democrats plan to use a special legislative process called reconciliation to ram through a radical liberal agenda with a simple majority. But doing so would require violating long-standing Senate rules and is simply ending the filibuster by another name. Here’s everything you need to know about the Democrats’ plans.

What is reconciliation?

Reconciliation is a special legislative process created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which allows for quick passage of certain budget-related legislation. According to the Budget Act, reconciliation may only be used for legislation that changes spending, revenues (taxes), and the federal debt limit. In the Senate, provisions that are determined not to affect one of these three issues violate what is known as the Byrd Rule and can not be passed using this special process.

Eligible legislation is not subject to the Senate’s filibuster, does not require the support of 60 Senators, and can be passed by a simple majority. The 51-vote threshold of reconciliation makes it incredibly powerful. Given the current 50-50 split in the Senate, Democrats could pass reconciliation legislation without any Republican votes if all 50 Democrats, plus Vice President Harris, who would cast the tie-breaking vote, support the legislation.

The reconciliation process has been used 21 times to enact legislation, including in 2017 when Republicans used it to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This was possible because tax cuts are directly related to the budget and fall within the scope of reconciliation. However, the far Left now wants to change the reconciliation process rules and allow provisions unrelated to the budget to pass a sweeping liberal agenda (i.e., the Green New Deal, a $15 minimum wage, statehood for DC, and Medicare for All).

What is the process for using reconciliation?

The reconciliation process begins with the adoption of a budget resolution, which sets spending limits for the upcoming fiscal year. This resolution does not need to be signed by the president. To trigger the reconciliation process, the resolution must also include instructions for specific House or Senate committees to develop legislative suggestions to align the law with the budget. These instructions are usually broad and written as general spending or savings goals for each committee’s jurisdiction.

Once individual committees have drafted legislative suggestions, they are assembled by the House and Senate Budget Committees into a single piece of legislation and brought to the floor for a vote. In the House, the floor process is similar to any other legislation. In the Senate, the reconciliation process limits the time for debate on the bill and allows for passage by a simple majority (51 votes), as mentioned earlier. However, to protect against runaway partisanship by simple majorities, the bill is also subject to the Byrd rule.

What is the Byrd Rule?

The Byrd Rule, named after former West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, was established and modified under Senate rules during the 1980s and became permanent law as an amendment to the Budget Act in the 1990s. The Byrd Rule establishes several requirements of reconciliation legislation that, if violated, can stop the House and Senate in their tracks. In practice, it prohibits the party in the majority from using reconciliation to pass policies unrelated to the budget that would typically be subject to the filibuster, requiring the support of 60 Senators for passage.

Senate Democrats now want to completely ignore the Byrd Rule and its precedent, setting the stage for the most radical Left agenda to sail through Congress, despite Republican opposition.

Is there a difference between the Byrd Rule and the filibuster?

Ignoring the Byrd Rule is essentially ending the filibuster by another name. Because the Byrd Rule restricts what kinds of legislation can be passed by a simple majority in the Senate using reconciliation, it serves as an essential protection for the filibuster with the force of law. If Democrats choose to destroy the Byrd Rule by ignoring the precedent, they will be committing an end-run around the filibuster, despite pledges from several Democratic Senators to preserve it. This extreme step has never been taken by any Congress — Republican or Democrat.

Why does all of this matter to conservatives?

If provisions in reconciliation legislation are not subject to the Byrd Rule, there’s no limit to what legislation Democrats can pass by a simple majority. No amount of Republican resistance could stop Democrats from passing sweeping federal gun control legislation or Medicare for All. They could enact the Green New Deal, costing American families an average of $165,000 each, or federalize the election process to give their party a permanent, built-in advantage. Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. could be given statehood to add four reliable Democratic seats to the Senate. Over 11 million illegal immigrants could receive blanket amnesty. The only limiting factor would be the political will of the Democratic Party, which recent rhetoric suggests is hardly a limiting factor at all.

The Byrd Rule is an essential guardian of minority rights in the Senate that has been upheld by both parties when they are in power. Ignoring it to ram through a Democratic agenda would cause the same permanent damage to the Senate and our political system as a whole that ending the filibuster would. Democrats should reject this path and admit that it is just nuking the filibuster by a different name.