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Budget Battles Brew in Congress

by Countable | 11.8.18

With Democrats set to control the House and Republicans the Senate when the 116th Congress convenes in January, the budgeting process will be the battleground for many of the ideological disputes that play out in the divided legislature.

Absent a major agreement on an issue like tax or welfare reform, each chamber will likely pass budget resolutions outlining their party’s policy priorities and may include reconciliation instructions to achieve them, which was the process used to enact the GOP tax cuts and Obamacare.

While those ideological budget blueprints are unlikely to gain much traction in the next Congress, if either party were to claim control of both chambers and the White House in 2020 they could serve as a preview of the next big battle over healthcare or taxes.

What is budget reconciliation?

Budget reconciliation is a process that allows Congress to expedite the consideration of tax, entitlement spending reform, and debt limit bills that can be passed with a simple majority in both chambers. It starts with the passage of a budget resolution that contains instructions for committees to produce bills that achieve targets laid out in the resolution (eg reducing the deficit by a given amount over 10 years), which are then combined by the Budget Committee into a single bill.

Reconciliation bills have to comply with the “Byrd rule”, named for former-Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), which prohibit the inclusion of provisions that:

  • Are extraneous based on the determination of the Senate Parliamentarian and the presiding officer.
  • Modify Social Security.
  • Increase deficits outside of the budget window, which is usually 10 years but can be any duration longer than the minimum of 5 years.

Provisions violating the Byrd rule can be included if 60 senators vote to waive it, but absent that a reconciliation bill must be given a “Byrd bath” to cleanse it of violations. (Removed provisions are known as “Byrd droppings”.)

Once a reconciliation bill reaches the Senate floor debate is limited to 20 hours, unless it’s a conference report containing a compromise between House and Senate versions of the bill, in which case debate is limited to 10 hours for both chambers. A simple majority vote in each chamber is all that’s required to pass a reconciliation bill.

What about reconciliation in the current Congress?

So far in the 115th Congress, reconciliation was used to bring up the GOP healthcare reform bill that passed the House but stalled in the Senate, in addition to the more successful Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which ultimately became law.

Congress hasn’t approved a budget resolution for the current fiscal year (FY2019), which it would have to do to use reconciliation in the lame duck session ― a task that, while possible, would be extremely difficult given the limited time left in the legislative year.

But that hasn’t stopped sitting members from proposing bills to take further advantage of the reconciliation process and to curtail its use.

Rep. Bradley Byrne’s (R-AL) 50 Votes for the Wall Act would allow the budget reconciliation process to be used to create a $25 billion Border Wall and Security Trust Fund, thus allowing one of President Trump’s priorities to be fully funded with a simple majority. The enactment of a FY2019 budget resolution with relevant reconciliation instructions would have to occur before it could enjoy the benefits of reconciliation.

Sen. Mazie Hirono’s (D-HI) Medicare and Medicaid Protection Act would prevent the budget reconciliation process from being used to raise the Medicare eligibility age, privatize Medicare or turn it into a voucher system, block grant Medicaid or impose per-capita spending caps on state plans, or to reduce the ability of states to provide health coverage under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Such changes would require 60 votes, much like changes to Social Security under the current reconciliation rules.

Tell your reps what you think about the budget reconciliation process and share your thoughts below!

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: Architect of the Capitol via Flickr / Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(55)
  • Craig
    last Friday
    ···

    Work together

    Like (20)
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  • Frank
    last Friday
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    Just tax the wealthy first & fairly & then work on a budget, otherwise the republican senate is just blowing smoke which is typical

    Like (14)
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  • Brian
    last Friday
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    The GOP has spent the past 8 years showing that they intend to spend freely and cut taxes, but will not attempt to balance the budget in any meaningful way. Perhaps the Democratic House can find ways to rein in the spending and increase accountability for the excessive spending while also channeling money towards initiatives that benefit all Americans, not just the wealthy and the military.

    Like (7)
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  • Marc
    last Friday
    ···

    Stick to your guns dems

    Like (6)
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  • Michael
    last Friday
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    Now if the Democrats would stop bending over and taking it from Republicans in the name of 'decorum', 'civility', or 'process', we might actually get something useful done. Grow a fucking spine, Pelosi.

    Like (5)
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  • Catherine
    last Friday
    ···

    Find out what your constituents want and think very carefully about whether or not you're going to give it to them. There will be another election in 2 years and if the majority of the constituents don't get what they want expect them to vote accordingly. And bear in mind how Trump will affect that situation and decide whether you are going to stand for principles or be a member of Trump's cult.

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  • Phillip
    last Friday
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    Cut the out of control payments to military contractors for a start.

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  • KyleCorley
    last Friday
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    We need to get a budget that we actually stick too. A balanced budget will help lower our debt. Normal everyday Americans have to live daily with a balanced budget to make sure they don't go into debt. Right now nothing is happening because of our debt, but just remember WWII was started because Germany was in debt and couldn't pay countries back following WWI.

    Like (4)
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  • Larry
    last Friday
    ···

    Cut the budget 10% per year until the budget is balanced. Then 10% a year until the debt is paid off. But of course, this will never happen. As Mark Twain said long ago "Asking Congress to reduce their authority is like asking a hog to slaughter itself"

    Like (3)
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  • Danny
    last Friday
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    Fix social security and put our money back in the fund. That’s our money NOT an entitlement from the government. Use congressional pensions to pay our money back!

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  • Phil
    last Friday
    ···

    When did 'ask not what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you' go the way of the dodo?

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  • Caren
    last Friday
    ···

    Well this could be an extremely terrible state of affairs. If Democrats get the House and Senate as well as the presidency then this country will go to hell in a hand basket! In fact, it will be the complete and total destruction of this country. We can definitely expect this if the Democrats behave like the last president who raised the debt ceiling more than once and spent more money putting the country more deeply in debt. Couple that with socialized healthcare and we are certain to see financial collapse.

    Like (2)
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  • Poli.Sci
    last Friday
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    Here we see the ideological battles fought between Republicans and Democrats for their budgets. On the Democrat side, you see an influx of spending to promote universal healthcare and a slow progress towards free college tuition and a minimum wage hike, which came as promises by multiple new and young socialist Democrats to Congress in their victory speeches. On the other hand, you see the Republicans who believe Fiscal budgeting and low taxes promote a better atmosphere while promoting actual Federal policy instead of having the National Congress used for domestic purposes. To my Rep and my Senator, who happen to be different ideologically, I urge both to realize that the Congress they sit in is meant to be an arbiter and helper to domestic problems, not a solution. The Congress they sit in is meant to look outward to foreign policy, whether that be in trade or funding for certain foreign programs, protecting our borders and allies, promoting an actual immigration system and not giving handouts, and promoting a better atmosphere with proper funding to our veterans. The rest is left to the states, who can decide for themselves if they wish to have all the extras. But I refuse to vote in favor of tax hikes to help those who are riding the system and to promote the merit system once again for all aspects of life because life is not a free ride and not everyone should get a participation trophy.

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  • suzanneh2017
    last Friday
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    Yes!! Since all the GOP and little Donnie appear to care about is money, and the house controls the budget, I’m thrilled

    Like (1)
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  • J
    last Friday
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    It’s time fora dialogue instead of capitulation to the dictator.

    Like (1)
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  • Donna
    last Friday
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    Yeah, pull the chain on: the wall, the tax breaks for rich and mega companies, and ICE ... stop persecution of “ the weak, the tired, and the hungry huddled masses”!!!!!!!!! AND larger allocators of funds to improve health care, education, hunger, homelessness,, global warming, water and air pollution, conservation of wildlife and National Parks, creating economic opportunities by massive infrastructure improvements, and reducing deployment of American troops in UNWINABLE conflicts .P.S. NO MAJOR funding to WEAPONIZE SPACE , and reduced federal disaster funding to states that have proven unsafe that do not address raising their own contributions to said funding, ( NO state like Florida, should be able to brag about its low taxes while the remainder of the state’s’ tax money is consistently used to help repair disaster damage!! THAT is a SHAM)

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  • Linda
    last Friday
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    Congress needs to work together. And no border wall. It's a huge waste of money. Work to help everyone not just the wealthy & corporations.

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  • Michael
    last Friday
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    If the Democrats would grow a spine and stand up to Republican idiocy, this might be a spot of hope for the country.

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  • Chips
    last Friday
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    Cut all Corporate welfare, remove the cap on Social Security, and increase taxes so that we can rebuild our infrastructure and lead the world like we are supposed too

    Like (1)
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  • Deirdre
    last Friday
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    Everyone in office needs to do their jobs for the American people. We need to get our budget balanced and curb the wild and crazy spending that 45 and his administration is doing.

    Like (1)
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