Reconciliation and the Congressional Budget Process

Reconciliation and the Congressional Budget Process

Reconciliation and the Congressional Budget Process

Reconciliation and the Congressional Budget Process

Excerpt

In February 1981, President Reagan proposed major changes in federal budget policy, including reductions in spending totaling more than $100 billion over a three-year period. The drive to curtail federal spending could not have succeeded without active congressional support. Most of the proposed reductions required changes in existing law. If it had wished, Congress could have subverted the president's budget objectives by inaction or delay. If Congress had followed standard legislative procedure, its consideration of the president's proposals might have taken a full year or longer, and many programs targeted for reduction or elimination would have continued at the levels prescribed by law.

Such was not the case, however. Congress considered the Reagan budget under special reconciliation procedures that had been successfully used only once before -- in 1980. As a result, the president got most of what he wanted, and Congress produced the legislation necessary to implement his new budget policy. Were it not for reconciliation, it is doubtful that the president would have prevailed. He might have achieved some of his objectives, but many, if not most, might have been stalled in the legislative labyrinth.

Why does reconciliation make a difference? It offers an integrated and expedited consideration of proposed reductions. Rather than splitting the president's recommendations into numerous separate measures, reconciliation provides for most of them to be combined into a single bill. And rather than allowing legislative activity to proceed at its usual unhurried pace, reconciliation establishes deadlines for the development of legislation by various congressional committees. Most important, the central purpose of reconciliation is to conform existing laws to current budget policies, thus providing Congress with an instrument for implementing the president's budget reductions.

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