Stimulus checks: This political power move would leapfrog opposition to fast-track a bill. Here’s howFebruary 6, 2021
The nine months spent haggling overnegotiations for have taught us that passing a bill can be a drawn-out process. But now, backers of President Joe Biden’s are in a position to use a powerful tool that, if successful, would speed through the time it could take to pass a new COVID-19 relief package, and everything contained within it — including a that’s shaping up for and .
The details of the maneuver, called budget reconciliation, can get confusing. We’ll do our best to break down what it is and how it could work. One important thing to know is that Democratic members of Congress want to use it to bypass opposition from Republicans. But because of thein the Senate (with Vice President Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote), using budget reconciliation will only work if every single Democrat votes in favor of the bill.
We’ll explain how using the budget reconciliation process would make it possible to pass the stimulus bill — and therefore approve the— in both the House and Senate with just a simple majority of votes, and why Democrats see it as critical to the outcome of a Senate vote. Here’s how it works and what’s happening now. This story has been updated with new information.
What is budget reconciliation?
Budget reconciliation is a parliamentary tool Congress can use to quickly advance the passage of legislation. The reconciliation can start with the House and Senate budget committees, before the budget moves to a vote.
Budget reconciliation needs a simple majority to pass instead of the normal 60 votes required to approve spending or revenue legislation. The bill also can’t be tied up with a filibuster, where a senator can use a variety of foot-dragging tactics to block or delay a bill.
Because it can be used to pass fiscal legislation that may not have bipartisan support, the budget reconciliation process comes with strict guidelines about how it can be used and how often Congress can use it.
First, it can be used just for legislation that changes federal spending, revenues and debt limits, like Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus package. Something called the Byrd rule — named after former West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd — prevents items that don’t fit into one of those three budget categories from being included.
Second, the Senate can consider only one reconciliation per year for each of the budget categories: spending, revenue and debt. Because Congress didn’t adopt a budget resolution in 2020 for the 2021 budget, this year’s Congress may have two opportunities to use the tool, once now and once again in the fall when it adopts a budget to fund the government.
Why is budget reconciliation key to the Senate vote?
Since a bill must be approved in the House and Senate before it can become law, the ease of doing so depends either on which party retains the majority, or if the bill in question has enough bipartisan support to pass with a majority.
With the Senate split evenly, it would take 17 Republican senators to vote yes for the bill to pass. That isn’t seen as likely, which would draw out negotiations and quite possibly dramatically alter the bill in the process. Using budget reconciliation could keep the bill largely as is, and approve it faster — a win for Democrats and Biden.
On Friday, the House and Senate both passed a bill Feb. 5 that , essentially lining up the necessary steps to use budget reconciliation when there’s a bill to vote on. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said her target time is to bring that .
What wouldn’t be included in budget reconciliation?
Not everything Biden wants to accomplish would meet the requirements for reconciliation. Boosting the minimum wage to $15 may fall outside the requirements. Likewise, using the process to fund reopening schools may be outside the limits of the tool.
How budget reconciliation has been used before
Congress has successfully used the reconciliation process just 21 times since 1980, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The most recent use of the budget reconciliation process was under former President Donald Trump, when Congress used the tool to pass the administration’s tax cuts in 2017. During the presidency of Barack Obama, Congress used the process to amend the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
For more on the next stimulus package, here’s, what you need to know and what’s happening with .