What is budget reconciliation and how will it affect a $1,400 stimulus check?

On Monday, a group of Republican senators met with President Joe Biden to present their version of a COVID-19 relief bill.

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The proposed stimulus aid includes a $1,000 direct payment to millions of Americans, money for schools and an extension of federal unemployment benefits, among other spending measures.

While Biden has said he is looking for a bipartisan bill to help Americans as the one-year anniversary of shutting down the country due to the novel coronavirus pandemic nears, Democratic House and Senate leaders say they aren’t waiting to put together a stimulus relief plan.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced Monday that they have filed a joint budget resolution, a move that will lead to a budget reconciliation bill — a process that will fast-track a spending bill through Congress.

What is a budget reconciliation bill and how does it work? Here is a look at the reconciliation process:

What is reconciliation?

Reconciliation is a two-stage process that first directs congressional committees to write legislation addressing certain issues, then allows the legislation to be fast-tracked for a vote in the House and Senate.

It was established by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

How does it work?

Budget resolution drafts

The first step in reconciliation is for House and Senate budget committees to write budget resolutions.

The resolutions are usually a guide to the policies the majority party in both chambers intend to put into place in the fiscal year.

Within those resolutions, the committees must include “reconciliation instructions,” or instructions that direct specific committees to write the reconciliation legislation, set a time period for when the legislation should be finished, detail the amount of budgetary change (how much it costs) and specify the time period over which that change will be measured.

For instance, reconciliation instructions in a resolution aimed at Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus package could include budgeting for a $1,400 stimulus direct payment to most Americans, increasing the federal minimum wage and extending federal unemployment benefits.

The Senate can use reconciliation measures in one of three categories: direct spending, revenue and the debt limit. It can be used in a single bill or multiple bills, but a budget resolution can generate no more than one bill addressing each of those subjects.

The reconciliation process cannot be used to make changes to Social Security, nor can it increase the federal budget deficit beyond a 10-year timeframe.

The Senate and House budget committees craft the bills.

Once the bills are written, the budget committees of each chamber incorporate them into an omnibus budget reconciliation bill. An omnibus bill is legislation that contains several bills that are bundled and treated as one for the purpose of passing the legislation.

Consideration under expedited procedures

The second step moves the legislation to the floors of the House and Senate for consideration.

In the Senate, the legislation can move quickly for a vote because debate on the bill is limited to 20 hours.

In the House, the Rules Committee will set limits on debate time.

Once the debate time has ended, a period informally known as “vote-a-rama” begins, in which senators can offer amendments to the bill. Vote-a-rama includes a short debate period with 10-minute voting blocks on amendments.

Not just any amendment can be attached to such bills, however. Amendments must be relevant to the bill under a procedure known as the “Byrd rule,” named after the late senator Robert Byrd, R-West Virginia, who was a principal sponsor of the rule aimed at narrowing debate on reconciliation bill amendments.

Under the rule, any senator may raise a point of order objecting to an amendment to the bill. If the point of order is sustained by the presiding officer in the Senate, then the amendment is stricken unless three-fifths (60) of the senators vote to waive the rule on that particular amendment.

In the House, debate on the bill generally lasts between one and three hours, and the number of amendments is limited. Any House member may offer an amendment.

The vote

The reconciliation bills that are voted on in the House and the Senate must be identical. If they are not, any issue with the bills must be resolved before the chamber votes on it.

A major benefit of reconciliation is that it allows any legislation crafted within its rules to pass in the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes.

The bill goes to the president

Once the reconciliation bill is passed, it is sent to the president for either his signature which will make it law, or a veto. Congress can override a presidential veto or a reconciliation bill, but both chambers must do it by a two-thirds supermajority.