Editor’s NOTE: The Senate, nor the House may by any rule or legislation subvert the Constitution. Much of the legislation passed by Congress and MUCH of the internal rules created within each house of Congress defies the Constitution and is therefore NO LAW, or in this case NO RULE at all. If the Senate fails to pass anything on the budget then the U.S. House Budget STANDS. What part of MAY do they not understand?
Those following the debate over Planned Parenthood funding and recent efforts to repeal Obamacare may have heard or read about something lately called the “Byrd Rule.”
As if the budget and lawmaking process in Washington wasn’t already hard enough to follow, add this to the list of terms and legislative rules one must understand.
Thankfully, I know someone who can help us peel away the layers of this legislative onion – Heritage’s director of policy promotion, Rachel Bovard. As an expert on Senate rules, her answers to my questions below provide a crash course on the history of the “Byrd Rule,” how it’s supposed to be used, and how it’s currently impacting the Planned Parenthood debate
Q: Let’s start with the basics, what is the Byrd Rule exactly?
A: The Byrd Rule is a budgeting rule in the Senate named after its sponsor, the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.V.. It was passed in 1985 as part of the Budget Act as a means to ensure that any amendments or provisions attached to the budget reconciliation process only dealt with budgetary matters.
Q: OK, let’s take a step back before going forward, what is reconciliation?
A: Welcome to the world of Congressional budgeting procedures! The simplest way of explaining reconciliation is that it is an optional budget process reserved for legislation that would have a significant impact on taxes or entitlement spending. Reconciliation is a tool to align the spending, revenue, and debt levels in the budget resolution with deficit reduction goals in Medicare, Medicaid, and other types of mandatory spending (that is, spending that is on auto-pilot and not subject to annual renewal by Congress).
The most important thing to know about reconciliation is that it can pass with a simple majority of 51 votes. This is a very meaningful factor in the Senate, where most things have to garner 60 votes to overcome the filibuster. Because of this fact, using budget reconciliation is the legislative equivalent to breaking out the big guns.
Since the 1980s, reconciliation has been used approximately 20 times to steer controversial legislation through the Senate – for example, President Bill Clinton’s 1994 deficit reduction and tax package, President George W. Bush’s major tax cuts, and, most recently, the Democrats used reconciliation in 2010 to implement the employer and individual mandates that are part of Obamacare.
Q: Now, back to the Byrd Rule – how does it interact with reconciliation?
A: The intention of the Byrd Rule is to ensure that the reconciliation process remains focused on budgetary matters, and is not used to advance non-fiscal policies. To do this, the Byrd Rule provides a point of order against material defined to be “extraneous” to budgeting.
Remember, reconciliation was created to address fiscal policy. So if a provision is not about spending (outlays), taxing (revenues) or about budgeting at all (a condition defined in the Byrd Rule as “merely incidental” to budgeting), it will likely be violating the Byrd…