H.R. 3982, Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1981

While the budget process anticipated that reconciliation would be imposed in connection with the second budget resolution and not the first, Congress had come to realize that the schedule of the second budget resolution allowed insufficient time to develop a reconciliation plan.  Thus, in 1980, during the last year of the Carter administration, Congress had utilized reconciliation instructions on the first budget resolution.

The Reagan administration had won a major victory with congressional approval of its version of the first budget resolution.  It now sought to enforce its priorities by winning approval for its version of the reconciliation bill.  Once again, the congressional fight focused on the House of Representatives and, once again, the administration offered a “bipartisan” reconciliation bill that became known as Gramm-Latta II.  The legislation was sponsored by Democrat Phil Gramm of Texas and Republican Delbert Latta of Ohio.  OMB Director David Stockman and Gramm were its principal architects.  But the final contents of the bill would be shaped by the legislative bargaining required to assemble congressional majorities to enact it into law.

Rep. James R. Jones (D-OK) speaking with Rep. Barber Conable (D-NY) and Sonny Montgomery (D-MS), James R. Jones Collection, Photographs, Item 128, the Carl Albert Center Congressional Archives, the University of Oklahoma

Because the reconciliation instructions involved multiple House Committees, the budget process specified that the House Budget Committee be responsible to assemble an omnibus reconciliation bill that incorporated the recommendations of the various committees.  Because the committees were bound by the budget resolution to meet specific spending targets, but were not instructed as to the method of meeting those targets, the Democratically-controlled committees sought to preserve Democratic spending priorities. They also sought to put the Republicans on the defensive by including spending cuts that would be unpopular, forcing the Republicans to cast difficult votes.

Confronting this strategy, the White House pushed for a straight choice between its version of the reconciliation bill and that of the Democrats.  The key vote was on procedure: would the rule governing floor consideration of the bill provide for a series of votes on specific amendments or a straight choice between Jones’s committee bill and the Gramm-Latta II?  The Republicans challenged the Democrats’ proposed rule and in a very narrow vote were able to defeat it in preference to a rule providing for an up or down vote on Gramm-Latta II as a substitute for the Jones bill.  The vote on the reconciliation bill followed a similar pattern to that on the first budget resolution, with the Boll Weevil Democrats voting with the Republicans.  Gramm-Latta II was adopted and the second component of the Reagan Revolution was set in place.

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