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"The legislative equivalent of deciding a bill on penalty kicks"

March 23, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

If you’re following the debate over health care reform or climate change, Ezra Klein’s piece on the budget reconciliation process is a must read. I know, it sounds dull, but it is probably the Democrats’ best chance of passing health care or climate change bills this session, so you ought to get to know it.

The basic idea is that there exists a process for allowing an up-or-down vote – 51 votes, not the 60 we are used to – on legislative proposals by attaching them to the annual budget. Sen. Robert Byrd [D, WV] has been fighting to restrict that possibility through a rule bearing his name that requires proposals attached to the budget to be more than incidentally related in substance. But there is no working definition of what qualifies for reconciliation. Republicans, under Bush, used the reconciliation process to enact tax cuts and oil drilling provisions. If Democrats can’t pick off a few Republican votes for health care and climate change legislation, they can try to use this process (the Senate parliamentarian gets to decide whether or not they can).

Anyways, read the article, and if you’re still intrigued read this comment at TPM explaining that anything “passed by reconciliation process can only be in effect for as long as the then-current official budget estimates play out.”

Related: A coalition of liberal groups, under the umbrella Health Care for America Now organization, recently sent a letter to members of the budget committee asking them to “protect health care reform from a filibuster by including in the budget resolution the option of using a budget reconciliation process for health care reform.”

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