(CNN) – 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, reconciliation has been used 22 times since 1981. Additionally, reconciliation has been used frequently in the past to change important federal policies.
–CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.