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tv   Policy Experts Discuss Budget Reconciliation  CSPAN  July 13, 2021 1:38pm-2:16pm EDT

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>> peter us knows has published hundreds of nonfiction books in his career as founder of the new york-based public affairs book. he's now written a memoir about his own life called an especially good view: watching history happen. the book review rights ox knows has not written a memoir so much as a report from the front , make that many fronts of the great news events of the great past century. we talked about mister ostnos about other things listen at or whatever wherever you getyour podcasts . conversation from the brookings institution on how the budget reconciliation process works. we hear from two scholars with a think tank in this 45 minute discussion .
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>> good afternoon. thank you for joining us for a conversation about budget reconciliation. i'm here with my colleague molly reynolds. we are both here with our studies program at brookings. we have both both written books about senate filibusters. molly's book deals with ways to getaround the filibuster including using reconciliation . your book is the exception to the rule, limitations in the u.s.senate. my book is on the fipolitical history of the filibuster , and it is called politics and principle at work, filibustering in the us today. we will spend 30 minutes answering questions about reconciliation. for those of you who have submitted questions in
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advance thank you and we will cover i think a lot of the ground that you were curious about in our conversation and then we will turn to more audience questions . if you're viewing live you can submit questions for us by emailing events at or via hashtag on twitter by using the hashtag #reconciliation101. what exactly is a reconciliation bill and on the way maybe help us understand what isn'ta reconciliation bill ?n >> so it's an optional part of the budget process that makes changes to one type of federal spending known as mandatory spending. to revenue or to the debt limit. mandatory spending isfederal spending that's handled outside of the annual discretionary appropriations process . often though certainly not
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always because the amount of spending is determined by something like a formula or eligibility criteria so things like medicare. each budget resolution which is the overall blueprint that kicks off the congressional budget process, each one of those can produce not just reconciliation bills. one that affects only revenue, one that affects only spending and one that affects the definite. it's pretty hard to do major policy change without po touching revenue and spending together so really we're talking about each budget resolution doing to reconciliation bills in practice. as we learn, recently you can kind of unlock additional attempts at the reconciliation process by revising our budget resolutions . this was some headlines about a month ago. but here i think it would be a pretty common theme for our
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conversation today area timing is actually a really big factor that even if the rules of the process and interpretation of therules allow for you to do something , the constraints of the calendar and the schedule can essentially be as restrictive on how the reconciliation process unfolds. the we will talk about this in a little bit when more detail but the sort of big powerful thing about the reconciliation process is that it allows for these bills to move through the senate without the possibility of a filibuster so instead of needing 60 votes to invoke cloture and end debate you can do that with a simple majority. that has to do with the fact that under the rules set forth in the congressional budget there's a limitation on how long a reconciliation bill can be debated so once the time for debate is over,
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the senate moves to a vote and that has the effect again of preventing the possibility of filibuster. reconciliation can change existing programs and create new programs, they can eliminate programs but overall the process again is limited by various roles which we will talk about later. there are also rules that there are certain kinds of particular commitments are permitted during senate consideration area to divide the rules that shape the process into ones that restrict the subject matter of the reconciliationbill . the bills have to be budgetary in nature and the budgetary effects arof things reconciliation bills can't be what we call merely incidental. we can talk about that in a little bit and the signs of the reconciliation bill is also restricted. for example reconciliation bills must be fully paid for ll beyond a certain time covered by the.
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usually that's 10 years and has the effect of things like the bush tax cuts which were handled through reconciliation, but from tax cuts handled through legislation . those containing that version that expires and that's one of the constraints by the rules of the process. so let's talk a little bit of an overview about what reconciliation is . tara, you talk about kind of why it exists. why do we have this complicated but really important legislative process. >> so why does reconciliation exist? i think first is good to keep in mind it's like a great example of the practice, the rules and institutions created for one purpose. a particular moment and length of time and then if conditions change , politicians and their very strategic usually party leaders find new uses or that established tool.
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and often there uses that probably might not have been envisioned when the particular lawmakers who wrote the rules or the law probably envisioned how they might be used in the future. and it's not that unusual in congress that the rules last longer than the politicians who created them so it creates this opportunity for very complicated procedures that probably didn't look so complicated when they wrote them . so in the reconciliation, it comes from the congressional budget act.i think keep in mind it was 1970, it was a majority and there were a lot of divers parties wrote entitlement programs, medicare, medicaid, other programs created largely in
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the congress. spending as you suggested that outside of the annual appropriations process and on top of this growing budget and social spending we have very tough institution conflict between congress and the republican president richard nixon. but also about federal spending and politics but congress is politics determine where the deficit should spend. those conflicts add up to the budget and 24. so we've got just briefly the process, reconciliation plays a special role there and we can have sit through some of the details of the original budget but the point was that there was actually would be to resolutions. one would lay out a budget blueprint, revenues of spending and debt limits for
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the coming fiscal year. it goes into suspending appropriations process so the annual spending and then there's supposed to be a second budget resolution that was more binding and then you get the two budget resolutions that match up as you said, , type calendars that you would make massive last-minute changes to bring revenues and spendings in line with the priorities of the budget resolution so reconciliation was that sort of opportunity at the end of the process to make the second budget resolution passed. as it turns out, i think lawmakers pretty quickly figured out it was cumbersome . they passed a couple first and that's back in 1979 or 1980 in the carter the resolution was structured, they took their first budget
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resolution and it was that type of doctor that is on this resolution like the appendix but it turns out he didn't need it so that resolution now we have the option that we're doing like reconciliation. it gets onused more frequently but not until 1980 so late 70s where not doing it. we have i think almost two dozen signed into law since the first one in 1980. it's changed a little over time. actually the tenure budget was a two-year budget resolution window and then a five-year that continue to be covered. nothing stops them, i don't believe it can . no big surprise, neither party makes the window needed to create more opportunities for spending more money or or
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cutting more taxes but the for key part of course is what you mentioned. you can't filibuster the legislationbills . so why not? especially senators, what's that all about? >> i think here is important to come back to the process as you laid it out there. the designs in the 74 act. so you were talking about how under the 74 act it would be the first budget resolution. there would be a second budget resolution in the fall and then there would be this. just before the start of a new fiscal year where congress might need pretty quickly to soda bring the budget process to a close but for before the federal government started on first.
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so this possible need to be released the, to go pretty quickly is a big part of what motivated this desire to put a limitation on how long reconciliation bill could be delayed in the senate. the idea was that congress might need to move fast and that limiting how long could talk about the bill would help make that possible. congress realized quickly that even with the debate meditation that that small window for action was actually probably too small. it's part of why as i said we eventually got the reconciliation process moving and then eventually the second budget resolution gets to them. arthroscopic surgery, but
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this reconciliation is i think worth noting not the only example of this kind of debate limitation in the senate. we have other instances where particularly where congress sh decides a particular piece of legislation should be protected from a filibuster . generally that's either because congress once to either avoid blame. kind of deflect responsibility to some other actor and then have that proposal that someone else move through in a protected way or it's because congress once to enhance visibility to oversee the executive branch. reconciliation is probably the most consequential of these debate limitations in the senate. but again,it's not the only one . and i think that as we think about the use of reconciliation in the very contemporary congress,
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mulling over the degree to which having reconciliation as this filibuster protected option for moving certain types of legislation has potentially helped keep the filibuster around. because reconciliation exists as a consistent outlet or certain types of policy changes so you sort of can say do that through reconciliation. that can't be filibustered but that will keep the filibuster around legislation in general. i sort of brought up the idea here that over time, reconciliation has become this tool of the majority party in the senate to pursue its goals. has that always been the case ? was reconciliation ever bipartisan? how did that change e and do we think thatreconciliation benefits one party more than the other ? >> i think erthat's really
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tempting to tell a story that reconciliation has become more partisan over the decades as the two parties have become more ideologically polarized, more electorally competitive and more opposed to partisan team playing. and there's some truth to that. you can certainly see a handful of bipartisan votes on reconciliation in the 1980s and eight period where the parties were so at odds with one another and now granted, there's a lot of examples here but we now see extensively it seems partisan phones like the trunk tax cuts were done on reconciliation area democrats voted for biden's pandemic relief bill and reconciliation this year, no republicans voting for it. my sense is in part, my sense
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is on the issue of partisan manipulation of reconciliation, reconciliation from the get-go was the way the administration kicked it up a big notch but the reagan administration in the early 1980s is already using it as an instrument to pursue republican policy agendas. they pare back spending favored by democrats. spending on welfare programs, what we used to call food stamps. and it's no longer reconciliation and maybe republicans who for the first time in decades then got control of the senate and white house so set the agenda that they couldn't get through the regular legislative process. i don't know if the data was all bipartisan but i think
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that evolution here is that parties have found a way to exploit reconciliation for top priorities regardless of the impact on federal deficits and they've both done it intheir own favored way . republicans favor tax cuts largely and can use reconciliation to dothat . at cost of the deficit and also democrats want to use it more for social welfare directed programs so the transformation here is no longer a budget cuttingtool . reconciliation plays a role in tax cuts. republicans said they would pay for it themselves but by many estimates across the government perhaps $2 trillion and perhaps vice versa for the democrats in pandemic a. democrats were upfront about the cost, they justified it as necessary to get us out of the epidemic but you can get
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it in a third rule but the transformation is both parties have found a way to own it and as the party has become more at odds, definitely looks more partisan because there are more measures across the aisle touse it . for the other party. now course, as you intimated there is a aconstraint on the majority party, several constraints but certainly one that looms large is the burden rule. you want to tell us about the burden rule, what it is, why we have it. and this might be my reconciliation 201. but why does is the thing so complicated why did it and up being so collocated i guess. >> so the burden rule basically limits the content
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of reconciliation. added to the process in 1985, modified somewhat in 1986 1985 and then it made some in 1980. it's name for senator robert byrd of west virginia and basically in the mid-80s there are two reasons he offered for needing to place some limitations on what could be an reconciliation budget. the first was that congress was trying to sort of cut on to the one neat trick that was reconciliation. it was trying to ask things reconciliation bills that didn't serve the goal of reducing the deficit. and as a result, in adding these additional non-deficit reducing provisions of the bill adding drama and controversy to the process which was making it harder for us to make progress on
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this underlying goal which is reducing the deficit. one of the ways that the process was originally used was to you just as production by telling lots of congressional committees and those reconciliation instructions that you mentioned earlier sarah that they had to report out legislation that would reduce the deficit by what some describe amount and then lots of committees would beset to work on this goal .k they would follow report back there to proposals for achieving that amount of deficit but congress would take one vote on the whole package. the idea was everyone should have some role in achieving this goal. everyone should be required to share some of the pain necessary to actually reduce the federal deficit. that was essential the central goal of the process
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that was how it wasdesigned to work . more things that were not intended to reduce the deficit. the problem is making it harder to achieve that goal and other sort of one justice for dave was that by making reconciliation bills bigger and including more things in them without the threat of a filibuster, that was using the expedited process was undermining the deliberative nature of the senate. so byrd offers these restrictions again on what can be in a reconciliation bill. again, speaking both to the content, the most significant piece there is the part where provisions in the reconciliation bill have to be budgetary in nature and their budgetary effects can be merely incidental to the goal of the provision.
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why is it so complicated. i get a couple of reasons. one is i think actually have to do with the fact that the rules like also rules are not self enforcing. so the only way that we sort of half footprints of a burden rule violation in the senate record comes from something actually being challenged on the floor. >> .. actually being challenged on the floor as a potential byrd rule violation. because there are lots of potential byrd rule violations that we don't see, and there might be provisions in a reconciliation bill that violate the byrd rule, but if more than 60 senators, which is what it would take to waive the byrd rule and keep a provision that
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is in violation of it in the bill, if there is a super majority of senators that support a particular provision, maybe we never know that might have been a violation. it's that uncertainty around it, the light footprints that the bird can leave is a reason why it's complicated. another is that we don't have a statutory definition of what merely incidental means. there's a real you know it when you see it element to the byrd >> there's a lot about the way it's been interpreted over time that doesn't come from underlying language. another reason why i think it's gotten so complicated is the fact something you were talking about in your previous question,
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sarah, is that i think there's more pressure on the reconciliation process now than there was in the 80s. you are right, that even in the 80s, beginning from the first major use of the reconciliation process, the procedures were used to achieve goals that were important to the senate's majority party, but they were not at that point the only way a majority party might be able to try and achieve some of the goals, particularly if those goals had some bipartisan support. now i think for a lot of legislative items, and i think we're seeing it this -- true this year, that reconciliation becomes the only way that a majority party in the senate feels like it can accomplish some of the things it wants to do, and as the process is asked to bear more and more of those policy agenda items, i think that's -- that increases the complexity of the process as well. the last thing i will say is it
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has to do with how -- the consequences of the rule for the structure of a reconciliation bill. so because the rule is applied to individual provisions, in a bill, it can be the case that if one provision is deemed to be a violation of the rule, that that can kind of -- if you sort of pull on that one string, if we're going to continue that metaphor here, that has the potential to unwind the rest of the bill, either policy wise. there are some i think we look back at the republicans failed attempt to repeal the aca using reconciliation in 2017. there were some pieces of how they had sort of constructed a bill that was going to accomplish this goal that were deemed to be a vie lags of rules -- violation of the rules, that once you sort of pulled that one brick out of the wall, it made it harder from a policy
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perspective to sustain the rest of the wall. or it can happen politically as well. i think we saw this kind of potential issue in the spring, with the american rescue plan, when we had the debate over whether or not that bill would include an increase in the federal minimum wage. and that ended up coming out of the bill because the parliamentarian advised that it was in violation of the route. but that had sort of political consequences for -- or potential political consequences for the coalition that was needed to support the legislation. i have mentioned in sort of describing the process i've mentioned the parliamentarian, with a really important role here. can you talk about that role, sarah? why has the job become particularly controversial? what role does the parliamentarian play beyond just playing the rule here?
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what other rules might come into play? >> sure, just as a sort of a framework here, many bodies have parliamentarians, not just the senate. the house has one. [inaudible]. but typically governing documents, could be in the senate's case, the senate's formal standing rules in the chamber, to set a precedent, think of them interpretations of the rule, how the rules have been applied in the past in particular circumstances, and then in more informal practices and so forth. but parliamentarians give advice. they provide information to senators, informally. they advise more formally on how the parliamentarian would interpret or apply the rules, say the rule or other provisions
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of the budget act. what do the rules require, suggest, or allow in one particular situation or the other. [inaudible]. we have seen this before; right? can reconciliation be used to ban funding for planned parenthood? and a decision is made once in the 90s. every time it comes up, the parliamentarian provides [inaudible]. but other times it is gray, right? those are the situations i think increasingly raise people outside the senate, right? i have been sort of shocked how many people who know what the parliamentarian's role is but kind of mistake it that the parliamentarian is telling them what they can do and what they can't. but she's not. she's advising.
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i would call it the practice is the chair follows advice. in theory you don't want the chair with his or her own policy preferences to make the ruling. at the end of the day, the senate sets the precedence or interpretation. >> what is the parliamentarian doing here in the context of reconciliation? >> as it's been crafted as you said, she can provide advice, hear from competing teams, as it were, parties or senators about why they think the provision fits in the reconciliation bill or not. she gives advice. by in large, my sense is because they probably don't for whatever reason, the minimum wage you raised, don't want to leave the footprint for whatever reason, probably in part because they may disagree with the party, the parliamentarian's advice tends
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to kind of carry the day even though it's just informal. >> as things become more partisan and given that 50/50 divide in the senate meaning there was no wiggle room at all. there's sort of i think kind of conservative status quo bias here that the majority in senators and leaders seem not willing -- or don't have the votes to push the envelope to try to stretch reconciliation anymore. i see we have questions coming in. let's see. i will start here, since it's related. a question from npr, who really decides how many times reconciliation can be used and what it may include? >> yeah, so i think, sarah, your answer to the question about the
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parliamentarian, underline a couple of the things you said which is that there's sort of the difference between what the parliamentarian advises and what the senate is actually kind of willing to do, and so, you know, the parliamentarian could say, you know, something is a potential violation of the rule, and the senate, you know, the drafters of the bill could say okay, we hear you, parliamentarian, but we are going to ignore your advice, keep it in the bill, something that could be a challenge to that provision on the floor, and if there's sort of -- [inaudible]. it is possible for a simple majority of senators to in the current senate, the 50 democrats
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plus the high ranking vote of the -- the tie-breaking vote of the president to disregard the advice of the parliamentarian. but i think it is clear or in many situations it is clear that there is a difference between sort of what a majority of the senate wants to do policy wise and maybe what they're willing to do rules wise, stretching the process to actually make that happen, and that there's kind of an interest that senators have in preserving the equilibrium that is the parliamentarian as a trusted sort of nonpartisan source of advice in the senate because, you know, as you were saying at the start of your answer, this is not the only thing that the senate parliamentarian does. she does not exist only to advise the senate on what is and what is not a violation of the rule. there are a lot of other situations in it is in the shared interest of senators to have kind of a parliamentary referee who they are all willing
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to listen to, so i think as we kind of think about these questions, what could really happen, what are the parliamentary cases? it is important to remember that there is a difference between what some senators might support on policy grounds or what they are willing to do to make it happen. >> with the warning that some of these questions are coming in are excellent, but they could be reconciliation 301, and we're live. we're going to do our best here. is [inaudible]. i will give that one to molly. >> sure. reconciliation can touch the debt limit. exactly how it can make changes the debt limit is a little bit more complicated, so the process
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could definitely be used to raise the debt ceiling. it probably could not be used to eliminate the debt ceiling entirely, sort of like do away with the concept of the debt limit, and the question of suspending the debt limit to my understanding is a little more complicated. i don't know, sarah, if you have any thoughts on sort of that middle ground. what's important to note on this as well as many other hypotheticals about reconciliation is the difference between what could happen and what seems likely to happen. it remains i think unclear to me, so i don't know if you know or suspect differently whether democrats will decide that reconciliation is the way that they want to deal with the debt limit. it's clear that the debt limit needs to be dealt with. exactly when is unclear. as to how that fits into the
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kind of overall timing puzzle i think again is an open question. i don't know if you have anything to add. >> there may be financial accounting reasons why a party may prefer the spending the debt limit versus increasing up to a certain level. my sense has been that suspending is more political palatable because you are not raising -- giving anybody a target number to be used against your party, but then as you suggested, if that doesn't score, then perhaps that's taken off the table, but that could push democrats to look for an alternative mechanism for perhaps on the appropriations. >> this may also be a good moment, sarah, to just like give a little bit of perspective on like where are we right now? what seems to be the plan of the
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biden administration and democrats in congress for using reconciliation? how many bills are we talking about? you know, i just mentioned it is not clear whether the debt limit -- this is the legislative process that they will use to deal with the debt limit or not. but kind of where are we? >> again, with the caveat there will be people watching today who are working on these issues. from the outside it appears to be there are -- not to mix metaphors, there are a couple of balls that are attempting to be in the air at the same time. i'm not a juggler, so here i am trying to use my hands to illustrate juggling. it seems the first one route could well be or at least what seems to be the current train track is for the bipartisan -- but it seems to have legs here -- the infrastructure bill to continue through the
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unconventional usual -- irregular, regular, irregular, regular order such as it were, to produce a plan to come to the senate and then to be in theory passed and sent to the house. where it would seem that the speaker would hold it for a -- as is the power of the speaker and majority party -- [inaudible]. at the same time, already underway appears to be the parallel track as it were of a reconciliation bill that would tackle the democrats -- the biden [inaudible] -- what else might be in the jobs plan. >> we will leave the last ten minutes of its discussion. you can find it on-line take you live now to the senate floor, our long-time commitment to covering congress.


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