A Brief History of Senate Reconciliation Votes

by

As Democrats move forward to pass health care reform attention has focused on a key piece of Senate rules known as budget reconciliation. This post takes Senate vote records covering 13 key reconciliation votes from 1990 to 2007 to show how senators in both parties voted–and how sitting senators voted in the past–on a variety of reconciliation bills.

(Click on the image to the right for a full visualization of these reconciliation votes.)

Reconciliation is a legislative process in the Senate commonly used to pass legislation concerning spending, revenues or the debt-limit. The process has been used 22 times since 1974. More often than not, these bills have been vehicles for large reforms in the tax code, health care and other social programs from education to welfare. One key reason that reconciliation is used for major reforms is that the process is subject to different rules than other bills. Most importantly, reconciliation bills are not subject to cloture votes–the 60 vote supermajority procedure to overcome a filibuster–and thus only require a 50 vote majority to pass.

The voting record shows that reconciliation is often used as a way to pass otherwise contentious legislation that could not receive sufficient bipartisan support to reach the 60 vote supermajority necessary to clear a cloture vote. Seven of the thirteen reconciliation measures examined here passed between 1990 and 2007 were almost universally opposed by the minority party while gaining almost total unity in support from the majority using the reconciliation process.

These seven reconciliation bills include the following:

1) The Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1993, also known as the 1993 Clinton budget. The vote went 50-50 with Vice President Al Gore breaking the tie. Five Democrats defected to vote “Nay” with 45 Republicans.

2) The Balanced Budget Act of 1995, which sought cuts in Medicaid and welfare programs, restructuring of Medicare and major tax cuts. The vote split 52-47 with one Republican defecting to vote with 46 Democrats against the bill. The bill was ultimately vetoed by President Clinton.

3) The Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999, a package of tax cuts and health care reforms. The vote split 54-46 with three Republicans defecting to vote with 43 Democrats against the bill. The bill was ultimately vetoed by President Clinton.

4) The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, commonly known as the Bush tax cuts. The vote split 58-34 with twelve Democrats supporting the bill with 46 Republicans and two Republicans defecting to oppose the bill with 31 Democrats.

5) The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, further tax cuts. The vote split 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote. Two Democrats defected to support the bill with 48 Republicans and three Republicans defected to oppose the bill with 47 Democrats.

6) The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which included cuts in Medicaid and Medicare. The vote split 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote. Four Republicans defected to oppose the bill with 46 Democrats. No Democrats voted for the bill.

7) The Tax Increase Prevention and Reduction Act of 2005, an extension of tax cuts. The vote split 54-43 with three Democrats defecting to support the bill with 51 Republicans and three Republicans defecting to oppose the bill with 41 Democrats.

One reconciliation bill split mostly along party lines, but was still able to gather the 60 votes that would normally be enough to clear a cloture vote. This bill was:

1) Marriage Tax Penalty Relief Reconciliation Act of 2000, which reduced certain taxes for married couples. The vote split 60-34 with seven Democrats voting with 53 Republicans to support the bill and one Republican voting with 33 Democrats to oppose it. The bill was ultimately vetoed by President Clinton.

On the other hand, only three of the thirteen reconciliation bills garnered wide support from both parties. These were:

1) The Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which included reductions in Medicare payments and the creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The vote was 85-15 with twelve Republicans and three Democrats opposing the bill.

2) The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, a tax cut package that also included education savings measures. The vote was 92-8 with eight Democrats opposing the bill.

3) The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007, which increased federal funding and loans for higher education. The vote was 79-12 with twelve Republicans opposing the bill.

Two bills caused significant splits within the parties. In one case, both parties were almost equally split in their support or opposition. In another case, only the minority Democrats were split. These were:

1) The Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1990, which included tax increases proposed by President George H.W. Bush. The vote split 54-45 with 35 Democrats and 19 Republicans voting in support of the bill and 20 Democrats and 25 Republicans voting in opposition.

2) The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which contained welfare reform. The vote split 78-21 with the Democrats splitting 25 in support and 21 opposed to the legislation.

(Ed. note: Votes totals only go back to 1990 because the Senate web site’s catalog of votes does not go back further.)

Most of the 100 sitting senators previously cast votes on at least one of these reconciliation bills. Some have voted on all thirteen of them. Below is a spreadsheet detailing the votes by sitting senators on all thirteen reconciliation bills examined here (Present and Not Voting senators have been excluded for space reasons.)

Yea Party Nay Party
1990 OBRA Akaka D Baucus D
Bingaman D Grassley R
Bond R Harkin D
Byrd D Hatch R
Cochran R Kerry D
Dodd D Lautenberg D
Inouye D Levin D
Kohl D Lieberman D
Leahy D McCain R
Lugar R McConnell R
Mikulski D Shelby D
Reid D
Rockefeller D
Specter R
1993 OBRA Akaka D Bennett R
Baucus D Bond R
Bingaman D Cochran R
Boxer D Grassley R
Byrd D Gregg R
Conrad D Hatch R
Dodd D Hutchison R
Dorgan D Lautenberg D
Feingold D Lugar R
Feinstein D McCain R
Harkin D McConnell R
Inouye D Shelby D
Kerry D Specter R
Kohl D
Leahy D
Levin D
Lieberman D
Mikulski D
Murray D
Reid D
Rockefeller D
Balanced Budget Act of 1995 Bennett R Akaka D
Bond R Baucus D
Cochran R Bingaman D
Grassley R Boxer D
Gregg R Byrd D
Hatch R Conrad D
Hutchison R Dodd D
Inhofe R Dorgan D
Kyl R Feingold D
Lugar R Feinstein D
McCain R Harkin D
McConnell R Inouye D
Shelby R Kerry D
Snowe R Kohl D
Specter R Lautenberg D
Leahy D
Levin D
Lieberman D
Mikulski D
Murray D
Reid D
Rockefeller D
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 Baucus D Akaka D
Bennett R Bingaman D
Bond R Boxer D
Byrd D Dodd D
Cochran R Feinstein D
Conrad D Inouye D
Dorgan D Lautenberg D
Feingold D Leahy D
Grassley R Murray D
Gregg R
Harkin D
Hatch R
Hutchison R
Inhofe R
Kerry D
Kohl D
Kyl R
Levin D
Lieberman D
Lugar R
McCain R
McConnell R
Mikulski D
Reid D
Rockefeller D
Shelby R
Snowe R
Specter R
Wyden D
Balanced Budget Act of 1997 Akaka D Enzi R
Baucus D Inhofe R
Bennett R Sessions R
Bingaman D
Bond R
Boxer D
Brownback R
Byrd D
Cochran R
Collins R
Conrad D
Dodd D
Dorgan D
Durbin D
Feingold D
Feinstein D
Grassley R
Gregg R
Harkin D
Hatch R
Hutchison R
Inouye D
Johnson D
Kerry D
Kohl D
Kyl R
Landrieu D
Lautenberg D
Leahy D
Levin D
Lieberman D
Lugar R
McCain R
McConnell R
Mikulski D
Murray D
Reed D
Reid D
Roberts R
Rockefeller D
Shelby R
Snowe R
Specter R
Wyden D
Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 Akaka D Byrd D
Baucus D Feingold D
Bennett R
Bingaman D
Bond R
Boxer D
Brownback R
Cochran R
Collins R
Conrad D
Dodd D
Dorgan D
Durbin D
Enzi R
Feinstein D
Grassley R
Gregg R
Harkin D
Hatch R
Hutchison R
Inhofe R
Inouye D
Johnson D
Kerry D
Kohl D
Kyl R
Landrieu D
Lautenberg D
Leahy D
Levin D
Lieberman D
Lugar R
McCain R
Mcconnell R
Mikulski D
Murray D
Reed D
Reid D
Roberts R
Rockefeller D
Sessions R
Shelby R
Snowe R
Specter R
Wyden D
Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999 Bennett R Akaka D
Bond R Baucus D
Brownback R Bayh D
Bunning R Bingaman D
Cochran R Boxer D
Enzi R Byrd D
Grassley R Collins R
Gregg R Conrad D
Hatch R Dodd D
Hutchison R Dorgan D
Inhofe R Durbin D
Kyl R Feingold D
Lugar R Feinstein D
McCain R Harkin D
McConnell R Inouye D
Roberts R Johnson D
Sessions R Kerry D
Shelby R Kohl D
Landrieu D
Lautenberg D
Levin D
Lieberman D
Lincoln D
Mikulski D
Murray D
Reed D
Reid D
Rockefeller D
Schumer D
Snowe R
Specter R
Voinovich R
Wyden D
Marriage Tax Penalty Relief Reconciliation Act of 2000 Bennett R Akaka D
Bond R Baucus D
Brownback R Bayh D
Bunning R Bingaman D
Byrd D Conrad D
Cochran R Dodd D
Collins R Dorgan D
Crapo R Durbin D
Enzi R Feingold D
Feinstein D Harkin D
Grassley R Johnson D
Gregg R Lautenberg D
Hatch R Leahy D
Hutchison R Levin D
Inhofe R Lieberman D
Kohl D Lincoln D
Kyl R Mikulski D
Landrieu D Reed D
Lugar R Reid D
McCain R Rockefeller D
McConnell R Schumer D
Roberts R Voinovich R
Sessions R Wyden D
Shelby R
Snowe R
Specter R
Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 Baucus D Bayh D
Bennett R Byrd D
Bond R Cantwell D
Brownback R Carper D
Bunning R Conrad D
Cochran R Dodd D
Collins R Dorgan D
Crapo R Durbin D
Ensign R Feingold D
Feinstein D Inouye D
Grassley R Levin D
Gregg R Lieberman D
Hatch R McCain R
Hutchison R Mikulski D
Inhofe R Nelson (FL) D
Johnson D Reed D
Kohl D Reid D
Kyl R Rockefeller D
Landrieu D Schumer D
Lincoln D Stabenow D
Lugar R Wyden D
McConnell R
Nelson (NE) D
Roberts R
Sessions R
Shelby R
Snowe R
Specter R
Voinovich R
Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 Alexander R Akaka D
Bennett R Baucus D
Bond R Bayh D
Brownback R Bingaman D
Bunning R Boxer D
Chambliss R Byrd D
Cochran R Cantwell D
Collins R Carper D
Cornyn R Conrad D
Crapo R Dodd D
Ensign R Dorgan D
Enzi R Durbin D
Grassley R Feingold D
Gregg R Feinstein D
Hatch R Harkin D
Hutchison R Inouye D
Inhofe R Johnson D
Kyl R Kerry D
Lugar R Kohl D
McConnell R Landrieu D
Nelson (NE) D Lautenberg D
Roberts R Leahy D
Sessions R Levin D
Shelby R Lieberman D
Specter R Lincoln D
Voinovich R McCain R
Mikulski D
Murray D
Nelson (FL) D
Pryor D
Reed D
Reid D
Rockefeller D
Schumer D
Snowe R
Stabenow D
Wyden D
Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 Alexander R Akaka D
Bennett R Baucus D
Bond R Bayh D
Brownback R Bingaman D
Bunning R Boxer D
Burr R Byrd D
Chambliss R Cantwell D
Coburn R Carper D
Cochran R Collins R
Cornyn R Conrad D
Crapo R Dodd D
DeMint R Dorgan D
Ensign R Durbin D
Enzi R Feingold D
Graham R Feinstein D
Grassley R Harkin D
Gregg R Inouye D
Hatch R Johnson D
Hutchison R Kerry D
Inhofe R Kohl D
Isakson R Landrieu D
Kyl R Lautenberg D
Lugar R Leahy D
McCain R Levin D
McConnell R Lieberman D
Murkowski R Lincoln D
Roberts R Mikulski D
Sessions R Murray D
Shelby R Nelson (FL) D
Specter R Nelson (NE) D
Thune R Pryor D
Vitter R Reed D
Voinovich R Reid D
Rockefeller D
Schumer D
Snowe R
Stabenow D
Wyden D
Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 Alexander R Akaka D
Bennett R Baucus D
Bond R Bayh D
Brownback R Bingaman D
Bunning R Boxer D
Burr R Byrd D
Chambliss R Cantwell D
Coburn R Carper D
Cochran R Conrad D
Collins R Dodd D
Cornyn R Dorgan D
Crapo R Durbin D
DeMint R Feingold D
Ensign R Feinstein D
Enzi R Harkin D
Graham R Inouye D
Grassley R Johnson D
Gregg R Kerry D
Hatch R Kohl D
Hutchison R Landrieu D
Inhofe R Lautenberg D
Isakson R Leahy D
Kyl R Levin D
Lugar R Lieberman D
McCain R Lincoln D
McConnell R Menendez D
Murkowski R Mikulski D
Nelson (NE) D Murray D
Nelson (FL) D Reed D
Pryor D Reid D
Roberts R Schumer D
Sessions R Snowe R
Shelby R Stabenow D
Thune R Voinovich R
Vitter R Wyden D
College Cost Reduction Act of 2007 Akaka D Bond R
Alexander R Bunning R
Barrasso R Burr R
Baucus D Coburn R
Bayh D DeMint R
Bennett R Graham R
Bingaman D Gregg R
Boxer D Hagel R
Brown D Inhofe R
Brownback R McConnell R
Byrd D Vitter R
Cantwell D
Cardin D
Carper D
Casey D
Chambliss R
Cochran R
Collins R
Conrad D
Corker R
Cornyn R
Crapo R
Dorgan D
Durbin D
Ensign R
Enzi R
Feingold D
Feinstein D
Grassley R
Harkin D
Hatch R
Hutchison R
Inouye D
Isakson R
Johnson D
Klobuchar D
Kohl D
Kyl R
Landrieu D
Lautenberg D
Leahy D
Levin D
Lieberman D
Lugar R
McCaskill D
Menendez D
Mikulski D
Murkowski R
Murray D
Nelson (FL) D
Nelson (NE) D
Pryor D
Reed D
Reid D
Rockefeller D
Sanders D
Schumer D
Sessions R
Shelby R
Snowe R
Specter R
Stabenow D
Tester D
Thune R
Voinovich R
Webb D
Whitehouse D
Wyden D
Categorized in:
Share This:
  • HG1971

    Awesome graphic. Is there a way I can link it to my facebook page?

  • Jim Bob

    Please research all votes.
    This is an easy matter for someone with access to a good legislative library, with back issues of the Congressional Record, Congressional Quarterly, or the Library of Congress, and a few days to track down the votes.

  • ColinL

    What would be really helpful would be to see the dollar amounts.

    I would guess that never before has reconciliation been used to pass such a huge bill. –Passing the federal budget via reconciliation shouldn’t count the whole budget, since the dissenting side wouldn’t have chosen zero.

  • Ah. I DID miss something.
    Thanks for that point of clarification.

  • It’s spelled “liar,” just so you know.

    As an Alaskan, I’m perplexed to the point of consternation to not see any votes registered by Alaska’s delegation on those reconciliation measures except one by former Senator Frank Murkowski.

    Worse, I don’t see Ted Stevens’ name mentioned once, despite his considerable renown as a Senate mover-and-shaker. Am I missing something here?

    • In the chart I’ve only listed current members of the Senate, not previous members. Thus, both Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens do not appear. Lisa Murkowski, however, does appear.

  • Bob

    Maddow, on her show tonight (3-8-10), called Senator Hatch a lier based on either or both his recent op-ed and Sunday talk show comments. if a transcript of her program is available, a check of her analysis protocol, the accuracy of her analysis, and the validity of her “lier” conclusions would be informative.

  • hiiiiiiiii

  • Good chart and good article (and great comments so far). I am wondering (and may do a piece on this myself) if this is all there is to the “voting blockade”. Specifically, how many votes pass the Senate w/o going through reconciliation and without a 60 vote super majority, but pass anyway because no one voting “no” is so strongly against it that they wish to filibuster?

    How many bills pass w/o a 60 vote super majority and NOT through reconciliation?

  • @daphne Thank you very much for the kind words. Much appreciated.

  • Chris

    The 1990 cut-off makes this graph potentially enormously misleading. While I understand the practical reason why, it should be clearly stated at the top of the graph, and not buried in small-type after the image.

    • Chris, I think the term “potentially” is key here. The other major reconciliation votes from 1980-1989 split this way: 3 under Democratic controlled Senate and 7 under Republican controlled Senate. If I can easily find the votes without having to go to Capitol Hill I’ll post them here in the comments or in another post.

      Mike, I’m not really trying to ask political/philosophical questions here, but everyone is more than happy to debate it in the comments. As to the Byrd rule points of order I’d point you to this excellent run-down of just that at Open Congress: http://www.opencongress.org/articles/view/1657-The-Pitfalls-of-Budget-Reconciliation

  • There are at least two separate issues here. There is a question of whether reconciliation can be used to pass HCR under Senate rules. In order to be relevant to that question, your chart would need to show which Byrd rule points of order were raised with regard to each bill, and then compare those rulings with potential points of order on HCR.

    The other political/philosophical question is whether it is appropriate to pass legislation of “this magnitude” (whatever that might be taken to mean) with only a simple majority in support. There is difficulty treating this as an objective/statistical question since one would have to determine how to acertain the “magnitude” of a bill (by dollars, by percentage of economy affected, by the relative degree of impact and numbers of people impacted, etc) and then how to factor in things like the degree and intensity of popular support/opposition.

  • This is such wonderful work! Thank you for doing this. I stumbled across your work via a tweet by @maddow.

    It is such a delight to see this, for several reasons. First and foremost, for transparency. This gives sorely needed facts straight up. It provides all the fact-checking that most of the press fails to do when they report on healthcare reform. I am so tired of the lazy approach much of the press takes: “This side says A, the other side says B”. And they pretend this is journalism. So yes, *thank you* for doing this! Now can we get it on the front page on the NY Times? ;-)

    Second, I am delighted by the chart itself. I am a mathematician and I deal with this every day: how to graph many variables in a visually accurate way that is understandable by non-experts. Your chart lays out the information in such a clever way, it has tremendous visual impact. One doesn’t need a caption nor an explanation to get it instantly. It reminds me of Edward Tufte’s carefully thought out principles for graphical representation of quantitative data (one of them is the ink-to-information ratio). You probably know about this already, but if you don’t, have a look: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/

    Finally, I am delighted to find out about the Sunlight Foundation. This is like a breath of fresh air.

  • Martin

    Found this little gem…

    The Budget “Reconciliation” Process

    From time to time, Congress makes use of a special procedure outlined in the Congressional Budget Act known as “reconciliation.” This procedure was originally designed as a deficit-reduction tool, to force committees to produce spending cuts or tax increases called for in the budget resolution.

    However, it was used to enact tax cuts several times during the George W. Bush Administration, thereby increasing projected deficits. This practice has since been barred, by House and Senate rules adopted in 2006 at the same time as the PAYGO rule.

    http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=155

  • Tim

    Nice article. I believe the 1993 budget vote was 44 GOP and 6 DEM against. We had 56 Senators that year, although Shelby switched parties.

  • Patrick in Chicago

    Great info to have! Thanks for the hard work.

  • @VPan If you want to collect that data, I will see what I can do.

    @Srinivas Sure thing. Done.

  • Srinivas

    Great in-depth info, Paul

    @VPan:
    I like your idea of specifying budget amounts involved.

    While the graphics page has a link-back to the blog post via the text header, maybe add an explicit link that says, “Back to article.”

    I’ve noticed a few Twitter links just to the nicely-designed graphic page, so readers may not find their way to your article here. ;)

  • VPan

    This is a remarkable piece of analysis. Just like you’ve added the context overlay of Dem vs Rep presidency, there are 2 other pieces of attribute information that would be most helpful to see added:
    1. The total number of budget dollars at stake (cumulative and total $B/year for the affected time horizon) and
    2. Whether or not the bill related to healthcare – directly, somewhat, vs not at all.

    These additions would help bring fact-based analysis to some of the allegations that reconciliation has never been used on this scale (dollars) or on this part of the economy (healthcare) before… let the truth reveal itself!

    Thanks.