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House ‘Reconciliation’ Bill Was Anything But

Unless the House decides to consider another makes-no-sense-and-has-no-effect bill such as the “reconciliation” bill it passed last week, the fiscal 2013 budget process essentially is over and done with until after Americans go to the polls in November.

Yes, action on appropriations will be needed by the time the fiscal year begins Oct. 1. But even if there is some spending Sturm und Drang, the most likely outcome at that point will be a bipartisan shrug of the shoulders and a short-term continuing resolution that avoids a government shutdown before the election.

That will keep federal departments and agencies funded through part or all of the lame-duck session of Congress that now seems 100 percent inevitable.

So why did the House last week debate and pass the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act? Not only is the name a complete misnomer, but the bill won’t accomplish anything.

First, it has nothing to do with reconciliation. Reconciliation can only occur pursuant to instructions in a budget resolution conference report approved by both chambers of Congress. With the Senate unwilling to consider a budget resolution this year, there will be no such agreement.

In addition, reconciliation is the procedure the Congressional Budget Act allows to be used to make changes in mandatory spending and revenues. The House-passed bill focuses on appropriations, and those changes are supposed to be implemented in a different way.

That makes use of the reconciliation label and the implication of the bill’s importance both grossly incorrect and substantially overstated to the point of being all hype and spin. It would have been just as accurate to call what the House passed a constitutional amendment as it was to refer to it as reconciliation.

Second, even if the bill were enacted, it wouldn’t actually replace the sequester — the spending cut that will occur Jan. 2 because the anything-but-super committee failed to agree on a deficit reduction plan. It might be an alternative, but it’s definitely not a replacement.

There are two theories as to why the Republican leadership moved ahead with this bill last week even though it wasn’t what it claimed to be and will never be enacted.

The practical theory is that the House passing the “reconciliation” bill in 2012 will make it much easier for the Senate to move quickly in 2013 to do the same if Republicans are in the majority in the next Congress.

That’s procedurally incorrect and, therefore, makes no sense. As with all other legislation considered but not enacted, this bill will die when Congress adjourns at the end of the year. The new Senate won’t be able to expedite the legislative process by simply taking up what the House previously adopted because, technically, the House will not have yet adopted anything and will have to do so again.

In fact, to do reconciliation next year, the House and Senate will both have to agree on a budget resolution conference report, pass their own reconciliation bills, resolve their differences on those bills and then each agree to the compromise — and that assumes they won’t have to deal with a presidential veto.

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