Q&A: “What’s the difference between reconciliation and a “clean bill”?”

If you're wondering something, you're probably not alone. Each day we answer questions about Congress, the legislative process, and government in general. Submit your question(s), and lookout for the answers in future Q&A posts!


"What's the difference between reconciliation and a "clean bill"?"

Great question! You hear clean bill a lot and reconciliation is something that lots of people (even staffers) don't fully understand. Here's the deal:

"Clean bill" is legislative slang for a straightforward bill without a lot of unrelated amendments or policies. You often see calls for a "clean bill" when must-pass legislation is under consideration, like a bill to raise the debt ceiling, renew expiring provisions, or extend funding for the government with a "continuing resolution." A "clean bill" in those cases would just address the main issue without including other provisions. Those bills, however, are very tempting legislative vehicles for other provisions. Precisely because they are "must-pass," and lawmakers want their priorities to cruise through the legislative process with the must-pass provisions. The additions can also come into play when the underlying bill needs a little help getting over the finish line. Additional "sweeteners" can be added to attract additional votes.

A reconciliation bill is a completely different animal and can only be used once per fiscal year as a budget resolution. The budget resolution sets spending levels and may have "reconciliation instructions: telling committees to go back and get to work coming up with policies that will meet those spending levels laid out in the budget. Those policies (in response to the reconciliation instructions) get rolled up into a "reconciliation bill" that gets expedited consideration and is not subject to a filibuster. BUT the reconciliation bill cannot contain extraneous provisions unrelated to the instructions. So, in a sense, a reconciliation bill must be "clean" since it can only contain provisions responsive to the instructions in the budget resolution. 

Hope that answers your question, Edmond R.! Thanks for asking!