What would Schoolhouse Rock! have to say about the reconciliation process? The old animated educational short was a useful introduction to “regular order” in Congress. Add a little additional knowledge on committees, filibusters, hearings, and lobbying, and you’d have a working basic understanding on how laws are passed in the United States.
That’s regular order. What’s happening on the Senate floor now is nothing close to that.
As Senate Republicans try to push through a law replacing or repealing Obamacare, they are relying on a byzantine set of procedures and tactics that are often indecipherable for the senators themselves. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s strategy to avoid a sure Democratic filibuster involves the reconciliation process, which itself necessitates tricky things like Congressional Budget Office scores, parliamentarian rulings, and the Byrd rule. Despite Arizona Senator John McCain’s rousing speech Tuesday urging a “return to regular order,” two procedural votes later, it’s clear that regular order isn’t coming back soon.
One of the chief points of confusion in this process is the issue of what can and can’t pass this way. The reconciliation process can only be used for legislation that has a direct and substantive effect on the budget. The legislation also has to save at least $1 billion for each committee involved in its funding authority. That means in order to reach the floor by reconciliation, and thus face only a 50-vote majority vote, the provisions of a bill must be scored by the Congressional Budget Office and then those provisions reviewed by the Senate parliamentarian, who makes advisory decisions on what can pass this way.