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What is the Reconciliation process

In early August, the Senate passed the first part of its series of infrastructure investments, a Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill focused on physical infrastructure including a five year transportation reauthorization bill. Now, the Democratic majority is seeking to pass a second, human infrastructure bill via reconciliation. The second bill is focused on human infrastructure like child care and free community college, reducing climate emissions and building resiliency into our infrastructure. While the physical infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (previously the BIB) was bipartisan, the human infrastructure bill will not be. 

During the debate on the Bipartisan IIJA, President Biden suggested there shouldn’t be any ‘double dipping’, meaning there shouldn’t be any physical infrastructure in the second bill. While the Democrats in Congress do want to ensure funding for other items in the second bill, they are not following that rule completely. The League sees opportunities in the reconciliation bill to address social equity and climate change through tax incentives for bike commuting and e-bikes, as well as potential funding programs to address environmental justice, including through improved bicycling and walking.

What is reconciliation

The reconciliation process is a quirk in Senate procedure that allows certain budgetary legislation to bypass the filibuster, and therefore pass with 50 votes. Because it is clear that Republicans will not support further infrastructure investment, Democrats must use reconciliation to pass the bill on a party line vote with Vice President Harris breaking the tie. While budget reconciliation is a useful tool to circumvent the filibuster and its 60-vote cloture requirement, it does have its limits. The Byrd Rule, named for the long-time West Virginia senator, requires that every provision in a reconciliation bill is related to the budget, and therefore doesn’t allow pure policy changes (Think complete streets policies).

The reconciliation process takes place in 4 steps:

  1. The Budget Committee, chaired by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), sets a top line spending number and divides the money among Senate committees with instructions on what types of programs they should spend it on. (The same process happens in the House). The human infrastructure reconciliation bill has a top line funding number of $3.5 trillion.
  2. Each Committee then debates and votes on how that money should be spent. The House Committees will be going through this process the week of September 13th. The Senate will likely follow the next week.
  3. After the committees finish their work, all the committee bills are combined into one reconciliation bill and voted on by the whole chamber.
  4. The House and Senate must negotiate their two bills until one bill with the exact same language passes both the House and the Senate.

In order to meet a deadline of late September, the House and Senate staff are pre-conferencing now to negotiate the content of the bill now so the bills that pass the House and Senate are similar, making it easier to negotiate and agree on the contents of the final bill. 

What the League is Advocating for

  • Tax incentives that will promote sustainable transportation like the Bicycle Commuter Benefit and a tax rebate on e-bikes, which are crucial to ensuring sustainable transportation is accessible across incomes and regions.
  • Reconnecting Communities, a program that aims to reconnect and revitalize communities of color and low-income communities that were harmed in the construction of the Interstate Highway System. The program will offer new mobility options to non-drivers and expand economic opportunity in and near their hometowns.
  • Well-funded sustainable transportation infrastructure networks. By building bicycle and pedestrian networks with convenient connections to transit, many Americans will enjoy newly available mobility options.