What to Know about Reconciliation and the Affordable Care Act

Guest Author: Aubrey Snyder

As you may have heard, the majority party in Congress (Republican) would like to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They plan on doing so through the reconciliation process. I would like to start by saying that I am in no way an expert on this matter. This article is simply to help others understand the reconciliation process a little bit better. I hope it comes of use and clears up any questions you may have had.

Words to know:

  • Reconciliation:  A legislative process which helps a Congress to pass a budget resolution. This “help” comes in the form of instructions within a budget resolution which are referred to as, “Reconciliation Instructions” (Reconciliation).
  • Vote-a-Rama: A rule within a budget resolution that says the bill at hand may only be debated on for 20 hours. As a result, no filibustering may occur which means the bill only needs a majority vote (51 votes) to pass (Vote-a-rama).
  • The Byrd Rule: A list of rules which say “reconciliation bills considered by the Senate may not contain ‘extraneous material.’” Within The Byrd Rule, members may raise arguments within a bill which the Parliamentarian of the Senate will resolve (this is referred to as a ‘Byrd Bath’). This does not kill a whole bill but sections within the bill (Slaughter).

Let’s begin with discussing the process. First, reconciliation instructions are given with a budget resolution to identify cost and savings targets within the new fiscal year (FY). These instructions do not specify certain policies to be cut or increased although they do give suggestions in a general language. Once the House and Senate Budget Committees have drafted a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions, the full Congress may amend the bill and it is passed to the Budget Conference Committee where the differences in resolutions are “ironed out.” Once again, the full Congress may pass the new resolution before it is passed again either to a single or multiple committees (be on the lookout of the Energy and Commerce Committee). Here, Committees will “recommend policies that save at least as much as the [reconciliation] instructions [propose]” (Reconciliation).
Whether it gets sent to a single committee or multiple committees is only a one-step process change. If the resolution is sent to multiple committees, it goes on to the Budget Committee where the resolution is compacted into a single bill which is then sent to the full Congress. If it only goes to one committee, it is directly sent to the full Congress. From there the “vote-a-rama” happens. If passed, the differences of the chambers in amendments (if any) are resolved and then put on the President’s desk for signing (Reconciliation).

Please note I have provided a more in depth outline from www.crfb.org below for a visual description of this process.

So, what is good to know about this process? For one, the reconciliation process must adhere to The Byrd Rule, which may be used to the disability community’s advantage. Second, by using reconciliation, Congress will not be able to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, only parts of it, since doing so would violate multiple parts of The Byrd Rule (Harbin).

I hope this article has cleared up a few questions you may have had and gives you a better idea of the reconciliation process. Please keep your eyes open as these resolutions may be proposed within the next few months. As always, stay active in your community and get involved. Tell your stories, visit the Hill, and write to your Congressmen/women!

Source: Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (https://www.crfb.org/papers/reconciliation-101)

Harbin, Christine. “Congress should repeal ObamaCare using budget reconciliation.” The Hill, 20 Dec. 2016, https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/healthcare/311182-congress-should-repeal-obamacare-using-budget-reconciliation. Accessed 3 March 2016.
“Reconciliation 101.” Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, 6 Dec. 2016, https://www.crfb.org/papers/reconciliation-101. Accessed 1 March 2017.
Slaughter, Louise. “Summary of the Byrd Rule.” House.gov, https://archives.democrats.rules.house.gov/archives/byrd_rule.htm. Accessed 2 March 2017.
“Vote-a-rama.” Political Dictionary, https://politicaldictionary.com/words/vote-a-rama/. Access 3 March 2017.