Skip to content

How the Senate Strategy Known as Budget Reconciliation Works


In the US Senate, a 60-vote supermajority is needed to pass most legislation. An important exception to that rule is the fast-track process known as budget reconciliation, which Democrats hope to deploy to pass a tax, health and climate bill viewed as crucial to their chances in November’s midterm elections.

The Senate, envisioned by the founders to be a highly deliberative body, was created with no mechanism to end debate on a given topic. Senators quickly realized that long speeches could delay action on legislation they didn’t like. In the 1850s, the practice of talking a bill to death got a name -- filibuster, from the Dutch word for “pirate.” In 1917, senators adopted a rule establishing that debate could be ended upon a so-called cloture vote supported by a two-thirds supermajority. That bar was lowered in 1975 to a three-fifths supermajority, meaning it takes 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to end debate.