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Friday, November 8, 2013

The Budget Reconciliation Process: Timing of Legislative Action

Megan Suzanne Lynch
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process

The budget reconciliation process is an optional procedure under the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 that operates as an adjunct to the annual budget resolution process. The chief purpose of the reconciliation process is to enhance Congress’s ability to change current law in order to bring revenue and spending levels into conformity with the policies of the budget resolution. Accordingly, reconciliation probably is the most potent budget enforcement tool available to Congress for a large portion of the budget.

Reconciliation is a two-stage process in which reconciliation instructions are included in the budget resolution, directing the appropriate committees to develop legislation achieving the desired budgetary outcomes, and the resultant legislation (usually incorporated into an omnibus bill) is considered under expedited procedures in the House and Senate.

Reconciliation was first used by the House and Senate in calendar year 1980 for FY1981. As an optional procedure, it has not been used every year. During the period from 1980 to the present, 20 reconciliation measures were enacted into law and three were vetoed.

Under a revised timetable in effect since FY1987, the annual budget resolution is scheduled for final adoption by the House and Senate by April 15. The current timetable prescribes June 15 as the deadline for completing action on any required reconciliation legislation, but there is no explicit requirement to that effect.

The record of experience with reconciliation legislation over the period covering 1980 to the present indicates considerable variation in the time needed to process such measures, from the date the reconciliation instructions take effect (upon final adoption of the budget resolution) until the resultant reconciliation legislation is approved or vetoed by the President. The interval for the 23 reconciliation measures ranged from a low of 27 days (for the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990) to a high of 384 days (for the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005). On average, completing the process took about five months (150 days), well beyond the two months contemplated by the timetable in the 1974 Congressional Budget Act.

With regard to the use of reconciliation by congressional session, action on 11 such measures was completed during the first session and on 12 such measures during the second session. Congress and the President have shown the ability to initiate the reconciliation process and conclude it reasonably early in the same session; in the case of eight bills (for seven different years), reconciliation measures were enacted or vetoed before the end of August. On the other hand, the reconciliation process can be lengthy and drawn out; in four instances, reconciliation measures were not enacted or vetoed until December, and in five other instances, carried over to the following year.

Date of Report: October 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RL30458
Price: $29.95

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