February 25th, 2010
04:00 PM ET
12 years ago

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

(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.

Filed under: Health care
soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. get real

    Soon to be 23 times! Stop whining republicans. You used reconciliation to push tax cuts for the very wealthy, one of the things that started turning Pres. Clinton's budget surplus into a deficit. if you didn't complain about reconciliation or the budget deficit then, you have NO RIGHT to complain now.

    February 25, 2010 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |

    Reconciliation does have a place in the legislative process – but NOT something that will fundamentally change 17% of the economy.

    Remember, Obama himself as a senator shouted OUTRAGE at the notion that the Bush administration might use reconciliation to simply appoint a judge!! Hypocracy? Nothing new for our Chicago Community Agitator in Chief.

    February 25, 2010 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  3. File under "Sarcasm"

    How about reporting the statements made in the past by Senators Reid and Obama on how terrible an idea it was for the Republicans to consider using reconciliation back in 2005?

    Now that the shoe's on the other foot, they're more than happy to change the forcefully communicated opinions of it they had back then. It's politics as usual despite all the President Obama's flowery campaign promises.

    Is it any wonder that the American public doesn't trust politicians to do the job right?

    February 25, 2010 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  4. Dee Dee Lynn

    If it was last used in 2008 then it was used by many of the Republicans now complaining about it. As I recall, the Republicans controlled the White House, Senate and House in 2008...

    February 25, 2010 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  5. An 8 year old ELEPHANT dung heap, does not transform into compost in just 1 year!

    And so it should be passed with a simple majority.

    This is a democracy after all. Cloture vote of 60 is something the Senate came up with. It used to be 67 and was later changed to 60. I am for doing away this this a simple majority should be suffficient. However, if no abandoned, then do not whine when it is used to pass deadlocked bills.

    You cons have every right to lobby for 9 Dems to join you in defeating the bill, if done through reconciliation.

    So starting lobbying and quit whining!!!

    Reds, show me where it states in the Constitution, you must have 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate?

    February 25, 2010 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  6. New Age Independent

    Reid is a fool. We know it has been used before. It's intended purpose was understandable. However a decision of this magnitude should not be skirted by using this procedure. Reid is an embarrassment to all Americans.

    February 25, 2010 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  7. Tim

    Mr President, thank you for trying to bring them on board, but the Republicans had no intention of joining the team. Now’s the time to move forward with reconciliation!!!!

    February 25, 2010 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  8. Ellie

    Republicans use the word "reconciliation" like its a BAD thing or a BAD word when they themselves used it all the time when they were in control.

    So this notion that reconciliation is BAD is utterly ridiculous.

    February 25, 2010 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  9. Allen in Hartwell GA

    And as Senator Alexander so conveniently forgot (as Republicans are apt to do these days) many of those reconciliations were signed by their buddy and fellow Republican George W. Bush.
    If they all do it, and we know they all do it, why is it such a shock and outrage when it gets done?

    February 25, 2010 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  10. ran

    One word: reconciliation.

    Democrats use it now and if need be use it to give us a job bill, immigration reform bill, energy bill.

    Democrats just get things done forget the Republicans they have no intention of helping get us out of the messes they got us into.

    February 25, 2010 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  11. abc

    There is bias here. Reid said 21 . you guys found 22 which as per my math is one more than 21.

    So Bottom line is yes atleast 21 Bills has been passed thru reconcilliation

    February 25, 2010 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  12. Republicans is smart in the head area

    Republicans complain about reconciliation but were all for GWB making recess appointments whenever he could.

    February 25, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  13. lovable liberal

    The reasonable way to state the conclusion: Reid was right and in fact understated the number. Alexander was wrong, and in fact, he was the partisan one.

    February 25, 2010 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  14. GOP

    Hey Dumocraps quit talking and use it morons,MAKE MY DAY,will be your political suicide.I dare you,please use it and bye bye.

    February 25, 2010 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  15. Otto

    Good! go for it then!

    February 25, 2010 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  16. Mike Pittsburgh

    Americans everywhere should pressure the Senate to just get rid of the filibuster. It is an archaic procedure that should not be able to be used to allow a minorty of 41 Republicans to thwart the will of the elected Democratic majority from passing laws and moving forward with what is best for the country.

    At the same time, when we do persuade the Senate to get rid of the flibuster, we will have to make sure a provision is included such that it kicks back in as soon as there is a Republican majority in the Senate. How else are the Democrats going to stop the Republicans from implementing legislation that they believe to be best for the country without the filibuster. Just because they may the elected majority doesn't mean they should be allowed to do whatever they want, the Democrats will have to be able to stop them somehow.

    February 25, 2010 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  17. Janice

    Even the dems are not dumb enough to use reconciliation,would be political suicide.They need to come up with something other than socialist agendas.

    February 25, 2010 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  18. Micah

    And this will be 23. Go Democrats, go! Time for the hope and change we voted for!

    February 25, 2010 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  19. jp,michigan

    Reconciliation if used will change the majority on the Hill, in the fall!

    February 25, 2010 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  20. Corey Kepler

    Hmmm.. and the republicans are being honest? Come on. It's time to call a spade a spade... Use reconciliation and pass real heath care reform. If the Republicans don't want to come to the table and participate we should just implement what we want– a real public option that everyone can buy into or nationalized health care like the rest of the first world has.

    February 25, 2010 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  21. GI Joe

    Some of you mindless talking needs to look up the following:


    February 25, 2010 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  22. Shelly

    You Lie, Republicans!

    The Republicans will do and say anything so the President does NOT succeed.

    February 25, 2010 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  23. mfhpr

    What won't the GOP'ers lie about to get their way? "If you don't play my way I'm taking my vote home...waaaaa, waaaaaaa, waaaaaaaaaa..."

    February 25, 2010 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  24. annie s

    I sincerely hope that the Democarts will use reconciliation to get us some form of health care reform before we end up with the majority of the country (Congress excepted, of course) unable to afford even minimal care.

    February 25, 2010 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  25. well there it is

    Truth be told, this is not an issue of Democrat vs. Republican, it is an issue of Democrat vs. Democrat. They couldn't get it done when they had the 60 seat supermajority so stop claiming reconciliation is being used solely to work around the oppositional Republicans. Truth be told it is being invoked by those who want to force compliance in their own party since they couldn't get the House and Senate to agree. The reason they wouldn't agree you ask? Even the Democrats realize the majority of Americans want the major problems with healthcare fixed but they don't want sweeping socialism jammed down their throats. The majority of prior reconciliation actions were to reconcile differences between the two houses bills, not party lines. This call for reconciliation bears much of the same but is being sold by it's proponents as something else, a way to stimulate partisan politics while denouncing Republicans for it in order to masquerade the failings of the Democrats own party members.

    February 25, 2010 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
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