How Senate Rules Shape Tax Laws
Senate rules and procedures have a major impact on how tax laws are drafted and amended, especially when it comes to those related to the budget reconciliation process.
Budget reconciliation is a separate Senate procedure established by the Congressional Budget Act (CBA) of 1974. The main differentiator is that the reconciliation process changes the vote threshold to a simple majority of 50 instead of 60, essentially negating the filibuster.
Not every bill can be taken up under this process, though – including tax provisions. There are guidelines that govern what tax provisions can be included in laws passed using the budget reconciliation process in the form of both rules and precedent.
Impact of the Act
The CBA may help expedite the passing of new tax legislation, but there are drawbacks and limitations. For example, administrative provisions are often a very important aspect of the policy objective behind tax laws, but using the reconciliation process strips out these measures since it prohibits “extraneous matters.” All an opposing senator needs to do is make a point of order; if it is sustained by the committee chair, then the material deemed extraneous is removed from the bill.
In addition to the removal of extraneous material, there is a prohibition on out-year deficit effects. This means that tax provisions that pass as part of a reconciliation package are often temporary and given expiration dates.
The Role of Precedent
The precedents of the Senate are often just as important as the rules themselves. Senate rules are often vague, but the practices of the Senate regarding these rules are well developed, effectively becoming the rules themselves.
The most important procedural rules can be found in a publication called Riddick’s Senate Procedure. These Senate rules and precedents are not automatic, however. The system relies on senators to raise a point of order to challenge a possible violation of the rules.
The budget reconciliation process makes the passage of the bill more efficient for the majority party, but it comes with certain drawbacks by design. The intent is to make sure that the powers are not too broad and cannot be abused by the majority party.