A budget resolution process

appropriations committee

In my continuing effort to provide a site with simple, understandable information, here’s what I know about reconciliation. The reconciliation process is a congressional budgetary process, by which spending and taxing issues can be addressed. This process, requires a budget resolution to be part of it. The purpose of “reconciliation” is to provide instructions to committees that provide appropriations for various aspects of a budget. Their work, then, becomes part of the budget resolution.

The most commonly known fact about reconciliation is that it is a process by which any bill proceeding through congress this way, cannot be filibustered in the senate. This means any bill brought to the floors of the House or senate require only a simple majority for passage. However, not just anything can be passed through this budgetary process. Any item contained in a budgetary reconciliation bill, must affect, in some way, spending, taxing, or debt limits. This is not to say that extraneous items are totally off-limits. Technically, anything can be passed through reconciliation…..if there is no objection!  In today’s political climate, this is highly unlikely. If an item is included that is extraneous, and it is objected to, it is deemed  “not germane” and must be removed. This can only occur in the senate. It takes 60 votes to over ride an objection.

Reconciliation also has other rules that make it a unique process. It can be used a maximum of 3 times in a fiscal year. Once each for spending, taxing, or debt ceilings. If taxing and spending are dealt with in one bill, that is considered using it two times.  I wonder why we never hear about that third qualification? Since the republican control both chambers of congress, it would seem reconciliation could be used to pass a bill that prevents a debt ceiling increase. Its comical, that when they were in the minority, they railed against a debt ceiling increase, but now, magically, it’s needed! Imagine that!

So to the point of this discussion……let me put it in the context of the failed AHCA and the coming changes to Obamacare (ACA). A vast majority of republican voters, and supported by the efforts of the Freedom Caucus in the house, wanted a “full repeal” of the ACA. The ACA is a very complex and comprehensive law. It covers thousands of topics, many having nothing to do with taxes or spending. A full repeal could never go through reconciliation. Just to be clear, the so-called 2015 repeal passed by both houses and vetoed by President Obama, was not a full repeal.  Even the AHCA that was pulled from the House floor, recently, may not even gotten through the senate intact. It is to be seen that any compromise the republicans agree on, may still find difficulty getting through the senate.

If you would like to read more about reconciliation, here is an understandable site:

Just a short follow up to answer my final two questions that precipitated these explanations. Those final two questions asked:

4. Do you know the difference between majority rule and super majority rule?
5. As it applies to intelligence gathering do you know what the ‘gang of 8’ is?

Most of my friends said they knew what this meant……but so we all are sure.
In the context of the current political climate: Each state elects its representatives. A state has a number of House representatives equal to approximately, 1 for every 700,000 residents. That number changes, based on the total population of the United States. The number of House members is fixed at 435. So a simple majority in the House is 216, or 50% +1. In the Senate, each state elects two senators. A simple majority in the Senate is 50 +1. Since there are exactly 100 senators, there can be a tie. Ties are broken by the Vice President, providing the 50 +1 required to form a simple majority.

A super majority is often used in the context of a filibuster, but also finds itself in several parts of the constitution. A super-majority is a number of votes required in congress to pass certain types of legislation or confirmations. There are three types of super-majorities: 3/5, 2/3, or 3/4. The House has no super-majority requirements. All legislation is passed by simple majority. The senate must have 3/5, or 60 votes, to stop a filibuster (a cloture vote), for example. 2/3, or 66 votes are required to confirm appointees or ratify a treaty. And finally, 3/4 of the state legislatures are required to vote in the affirmative to pass any amendments to the constitution.

The last question was in the context of intelligence gathering. There are 16 intelligence gathering and analyzing agencies. Each has a head, and to date, only two of those heads have been appointed by president Trump. The rest are career personnel. These agencies collect what’s referred to as “raw data” as well as “metadata” for virtually all communication in the entire world.  There is very limited access to this raw data. Technically, there is only one person from each agency that can view any raw data. If that person analyzes that data to be important for national security reasons, and others must have access to it, a warrant from the FISA court must be obtained. A similar procedure exists in law enforcement, but a criminal court is used for the warranting process.

In addition to the 16 people mentioned above, eight members of congress can review raw data upon request. But even they, are not allowed to see the exposed names of American citizens in intelligence data collections. Those eight members of congress are:

Speaker, Paul Ryan
House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi
Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader, Charles Schumer
House Intelligence Committee chairman, David Nunez
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member, Adam Schiff
House Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member, Mark Warner

These men are referred to as the “gang of eight”. The people in these positions change, but the positions allowed to see communication intelligence do not.


Regular Order

How is spending supposed to happen in congress

appropriations committee
A meeting of the House Appropriations Committee at a “mark-up” session


This blog is a follow-up to the previous one on the filibuster. It is in response to a question I asked on a recent FB post. “Do you understand what regular order is, in the congress?”  As I stated then, much misinformation was being spread, seemingly because of a lack of understanding as to how the legislative process works.  This is my attempt to educate as many as I can about that process.  My last blog post discussed the senate filibuster, in the context of passing the AHCA (American Health Care Act) This post will discuss what I know about “regular order”. It certainly is not comprehensive, but made to be as concise as possible in the context of passing a Health Care reform bill.


Every year congress must pass a budget. This is a resolution not a law. A budget resolution sets the annual limits to spending. There are some portions of spending that, simply by law, cannot be set. This is called “mandatory” spending or like many like to call them entitlements. These are things like Medicare, Medicaid, Interest on the debt, and yes, Social Security. I’m not judging whether or not these things are entitlements, just that they represent mandatory spending that can’t be budgeted. These 4 categories represent almost half of all spending…..they cannot be cut without changing the underlying laws that created them.

The second kind of spending is called “discretionary” spending. These are the things congress can set yearly spending levels for. The biggest of these is defense and represents about 1/4 of spending. So these 5 categories now represent 3/4 of all spending, leaving only 1/4 of the budget that must carry any cuts to all spending. In the budget resolution, it is taken into account what mandatory spending must be made, then the numbers of all other spending will be debated and set, then enacted into law through a budget resolution.

Let me just say something about spending limits and just how they arrive at the amounts. At one time in the US, budgets were set by actual laws that looked at revenue as a limiting factor to spending. That changed in the 70s when “baseline budgeting” was invented. Baseline budgeting is a system of budgeting that looks only at the previous years spending to set the following years amount. Typically, whatever was spent the previous year will be increased by 1-8%. The previous year’s spending becomes the “baseline”, and it is assumed that the amount needed for the next year will be more. Rarely do they cut the previous years budgeting number, but merely the rise from the baseline. So don’t be fooled, when they say they are “cutting” the budget of a program, they are merely cutting the amount of increase, not the underlying baseline.

Once the budget resolution is set, this is when Regular order is supposed to begin. This budget resolution “authorizes” the money to be spent. Next is the necessity to “appropriate” the budgeted amount into various spending programs. For example, if the budget resolution authorizes ten billion dollars to be spent by the Department of Education, just how that money can be spent has to be done in the appropriation process. In the government there are 12 such appropriation categories.

    1. Agriculture,
    2. Commerce, Justice, and Science,
    3. Defense,
    4. Energy and Water,
    5. Financial Services,
    6. Homeland Security,
    7. Interior and Environment,
    8. Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education,
    9. Legislative,
    10. Military and Veterans,
    11. State and Foreign Operations,
    12. Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

      During regular order, each category of discretionary spending is sent to a committee that will debate and decide how the money should be spent, in accordance with the budget resolution. In this committee, priorities are discussed and just how the money will be spent is decided. Once they have completed what’s called the “mark-up”, the appropriation is sent to the floor of the House where amendments can be offered then the bill is voted on. By the way, the House is the only body that can originate spending. Of course the senate has its own process, but the actual origination of any spending must start in the House. Once each body has an appropriation bill approved, both bills wind up in a final conference committee. This is a committee chosen by the speaker of the House and minority leader and the leaders of the senate. It typically contains about 24 members chosen from all 535 congressmen, some republicans and some democrats. The conference committee then attempts to merge the two appropriations bills into one final bill. They also can make changes. When they are finished…they send that one bill to both chambers for further amendments then a final vote is taken. This then becomes the spending for the next year. This long and tedious process is supposed to be done 12 times in 1 year. It rarely happens! Even in a good year of regular order, only 3 or 4 new appropriations are completed.  When an appropriation bill is not completed, before the deadline….which is October 1st, no spending can take place in that area not appropriated for. When this happens, typically a continuing resolution is agreed to. A continuing resolution (CR) is simply a document to continue the spending from the previous year, with an appropriate increase from the baseline, if that money was authorized in the budget resolution. When CRs are implemented, spending can never decrease and changes to programs cannot be made. Everything remains the same.

      bush obama
      Presidents Obama and Bush, the men who presided over the creation of more debt than all other presidents combined

      I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here something few people know. It is the reason why the national debt under Obama grew at its fastest rate in the history of our country. In fact during the 8 years of president Obama, more debt was added by the congress than all debt acquired in our history. That means that from 1787, our beginning, to 2000, the beginning of the Bush administration, the debt….. that is every dollar the US government had borrowed since 1787 had risen to 4 trillion dollars. That’s 213 years of borrowing. During the Bush term congress more that doubled this to over 9 trillion. And…….are you ready?, under the Obama term, congress doubled it again to over 19 trillion.  The reason for this explosion in debt was due to the continued use of CRs and not regular order. In 2009 congress passed the largest stimulus spending in our history….$887 billion. This money had to be placed in the budget resolution for that year. Well guess what? No appropriations were made after that year.

      harry reid
      Harry Reid

      For 4 straight years Harry Reid refused to pass a new budget resolution, so congress was continually forced to pass CRs to keep the government funded. These CRs contained the stimulus spending amounts, adding a trillion dollars of debt each year.

      Ok, enough bashing. What does this have to do with the AHCA. In my next post, I’ll be talking about reconciliation. But for now, know that  regular order is the process of creating a budget, authorizing money to be spent, then appropriating that money to be spent in various ways. It is a complicated, tedious, and lengthy process. But it is the most important function congress has…..and it hasn’t been used for decades the way it is supposed to be. Paul Ryan promised his members and the people, that congress would return to regular order. He is trying. Understanding regular order is highly important to understanding the AHCA repeal and replace legislation. It will become more clear when I discuss reconciliation……stay tuned.

      Paul Ryan
      Paul Ryan