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The Byrd Rule

The Byrd rule is a parliamentary tripwire that prevents tangential material from being included in a budget reconciliation bill in the Senate.

Reconciliation legislation is developed in response to instructions included in a budget resolution.

The purpose of the reconciliation process is to change current law so that federal spending, taxes, and debt limit levels align with the levels set forth in the budget resolution.

Thus, reconciliation bills are primarily expected to be germane and deal with fiscal matters.

The Byrd rule allows any senator to raise a point of order against “extraneous” provisions.

If the point of order is sustained, the offending provision is deemed stricken unless its proponent can muster 60 Senate votes to waive the rule. 

The definition of what constitutes tangential material is set forth in the 1974 Budget Act, but it remains open to interpretation by the Senate Parliamentarian.

Any senator may raise a point of order against a provision believed to be extraneous, which is commonly referred to as a “Byrd bath.”

If the point of order is sustained by the presiding officer, usually with the advice of the Senate Parliamentarian, the extraneous provision is stricken from the bill unless at least three-fifths of the senators (currently 60 out of 100) vote to waive the Byrd Rule.

In essence, the Byrd Rule is a procedural guardrail ensuring that reconciliation maintains its original intent: facilitating changes to fiscal policy to align with the budget resolution.

However, it also serves as a significant limitation on the contents of reconciliation bills, preventing their use to pass major legislation that does not directly affect the federal budget.

The rule was named for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV).

Use of “Byrd Rule” in a sentence:

  • Given the limitations of the Byrd Rule, senators must carefully craft reconciliation bills to ensure that each provision is primarily related to budget changes and is not merely incidental.
  • The Senate Parliamentarian rejected certain components of the proposed legislation, citing the Byrd Rule, which prohibits the inclusion of “extraneous matter” in a reconciliation bill.
  • Some senators attempted to waive the Byrd Rule to pass non-budgetary measures through the reconciliation process, but they were unable to secure the required 60 votes.