A reconciliation instruction is a directive placed in a concurrent resolution on the budget for a fiscal year pursuant to section 310 (CBA), which takes the form of resolution text. The instruction is for an authorizing committee of Congress to recommend amendments to existing law that would cause changes in budget levels and hence generates a reconciliation bill.
Reconciliation Instructions Included in Budget Resolutions
GAO Glossary of Terms and Definition (September 2005)
A provision in a concurrent budget resolution directing one or more committees to report (or submit to the House and Senate Budget Committees) legislation changing existing laws or pending legislation in order to bring spending, revenues, or debt limit into conformity with the budget resolution. The instructions specify the committees to which they apply, indicate the appropriate total dollar changes to be achieved, and usually provide a deadline by which the legislation is to be reported or submitted.
Limitations on Instructions
Due to an advisory made by the Senate Parliamentarian, a maximum of three bills may be enacted through reconciliation: direct spending, revenue and public debt . A single bill may include direct spending and revenue, but that means no more such bills may be enacted making changes of that type using reconciliation. The Senate Parliamentarian makes the decisions since he makes the decision on the nature of reconciliation privilege, and hence access to expedited consideration in the Senate.
Section 310(a) (CBA) makes specific references to the type of changes for reconciliation bills: budget authority (BA), new entitlement authority (NEA), credit authority, revenues , the statutory limit on the public, or a combination of these, and deficit reduction. NEA and credit authority are no longer used. It might be noticed that “outlays” is not mentioned, but the reference to “deficit” incorporates it necessarily since it is calculated by changes in outlays and revenue, not BA or the other forms of authorizations.
Tax Legislation and Tax credits
Tax bills very often include “tax expenditures” in the form of refundable tax credits. Any time a taxpayer receives refundable tax credit, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, it is defined as an outlay, not a revenue loss. Hence a tax bill which increases a credit for taxpayers who pay no income tax, but rather receive money back from the government for various reasons (e.g. EITC, Child Care Tax Credit) will cause that bill to be a “spending” bill as well as revenue bill.
The kinds of spending that may be changed in reconciliation is confined to “direct spending“. Hence the Appropriations Committee, which generally effects discretionary spending so does not receive instructions through reconciliation. In theory, they could effect the deficit by rescinding previously appropriated budget authority, which would be, under scorekeeping rules would be a reduction in the deficit. Still, they are not reconciled, and by the definition of “direct spending” excludes spending that is included in appropriation bills.
The Byrd Rule does not apply to reconciliation instructions themselves, but must be taken into account when designing and drafting them. The rule may be found in section 313 (CBA)
Senate Budget Committee – History of Reconciliation Instructions in Post-Byrd Rule Era