Last week, the GOP-led Congress passed a budget resolution which, Republicans claim, will balance the budget in 10 years. The resolution is a policy document, intended to guide the appropriations process, and doesn’t itself have the force of law.
More important than the details of the budget document, the action sets up the GOP to finally match its action to its rhetoric and undo the worst aspects of Obama’s fiscal policies.
Over the next two weeks, while Congress is in recess, the House and Senate will begin to hammer out small differences between the budget resolutions that passed each chamber. Leaders in both chambers have vowed to meet the April 15th deadline to produce a final budget resolution.
The final product of House and Senate negotiations on a budget resolution matters less than the process by which any deal will be enacted. Congress, particularly the Senate, can use “reconciliation” to make policy changes that involve the final budget agreement. Reconciliation limits the amount of debate in the Senate on the final resolution and, most importantly, operates outside the filibuster process, so it requires only a simply majority of 51 votes for passage.
Reconciliation was used in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was in the White House and Republicans controlled Congress to produce the last real balanced budget. It was used to pass the Bush tax cuts early in his presidency. It was also used to enact ObamaCare.