Over the weekend, the New York Times published online a great infographic, documenting the history of budget reconciliation back to 1981. It definitely cuts through a lot of the bullroar we've heard lately about a parliamentary procedure that's actually common and non-controversial.
As you can see for yourself, budget reconciliation has shepherded all sorts of legislation into existence: big bills, small bills, partisan bills, non-partisan bills. And, as I've already noted, reconciliation has been used to create substantial government programs as well.
The Times's conclusion? Pretty basic, really:
The history is clear: While the use of reconciliation in this case -- amending a bill that has already passed the Senate via cloture -- is new, it is compatible with the law, Senate rules and the framers' intent.
It's worth pointing out of course that overwrought concern over the budget reconciliation process is a new development in the political life of this country. Jamison Foser took a look back over the way the budget reconciliation process was covered by the media during the drive to pass the 2003 Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act and discovered that the media pretty much didn't cover it at all:
The Senate reconciliation vote occurred on May 23, 2003. In the month of May, only one New York Times article so much as mentioned the use of reconciliation for the tax cuts -- a May 13, 2003, article that devoted a few paragraphs to wrangling over whether Senate Republicans could assign the bill number they wanted (S.2) to a bill approved via reconciliation. The Times also used the word "reconciliation" in a May 9, 2003, editorial, but gave no indication whatsoever of what it meant.
And that's more attention than most news outlets gave to the use of reconciliation that month. The Washington Post didn't run a single article, column, editorial, or letter to the editor that used the words "reconciliation" and "senate." Not one. USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press were similarly silent.
Cable news didn't care, either. CNN ran a quote by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley about the substance of the tax cuts in which he used the word "reconciliation" in passing -- but that was it. Fox News aired two interviews in which Republican members of Congress referred to the reconciliation process in order to explain why the tax cuts would be temporary, but neither they nor the reporters interviewing them treated reconciliation as a controversial tactic.
And ABC, CBS, NBC? Nothing, nothing, nothing.
The bottom line is that budget reconciliation has only become "controversial" because opponents of health care reform deemed it so and made a lot of noise about it, this creating the sort of shiny, twinkling light that attracts the media and compels them to lose their minds completely. The pendulum of power over time tends to shift, and so one day the GOP will find itself needing to advance legislation through the reconciliation process, and we'll never hear about the "controversial" budget reconciliation process again.