Post allowed "moderate" Specter to criticize reconciliation without noting his support for using it to pass Bush tax cuts

››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

The Washington Post reported Sen. Arlen Specter's criticism of Democrats' potential use of the reconciliation process to pass health-care reform without noting that he repeatedly voted in favor of using reconciliation as a method to pass President Bush's tax cut bills.

In an April 1 article about Democrats considering the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass health-care reform legislation, The Washington Post reported that "Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), a moderate Republican, warned that adopting reconciliation would be 'a colossal mistake.' " The Post went on to quote Specter saying: "I think it fair to say that to misuse the reconciliation process would be a very strong blow against bipartisanship and cooperation." Later, the article stated that "[a]dvocates defend reconciliation as a legitimate tool used more often by Republicans in recent years, most notably to pass President George W. Bush's tax cuts." However, while allowing Specter to criticize Democrats for potentially "misus[ing]" the process, the Post did not point out that Specter himself voted both to allow the use of reconciliation to pass those tax cuts -- in all cases on nearly party-line votes -- and for the underlying tax cut legislation.

In a March 28 article, The New York Times reported: "[T]here are a couple of problems for Republicans as they push back furiously against the idea, chief of which is the fact that they used the process themselves on several occasions, notably when enacting more than $1 trillion in tax cuts in 2001." The article continued:

"That means critics can have a field day lampooning Republicans and asking them -- as Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, did repeatedly the other day -- why reconciliation was such a good idea when it came to giving tax cuts to millionaires but such a bad one when it comes to trying to provide health care to average Americans."

Indeed, Specter was one of 51 senators -- all 50 Republicans and Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA) -- who voted in favor of a 2001 amendment to the fiscal year 2002 budget resolution that allowed for the consideration of President Bush's tax cuts -- the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 -- through the reconciliation process. Specter later voted for the tax cut bill itself.

In a May 23, 2001, article (accessed via Nexis) headlined, "Tax Cut Hits Senate Snag; Angry Democrats Offer Amendments to Slow Bill's Progress," the Post reported that "[o]ver the vehement protests of Democrats, the Republican leadership earlier in the year had prevailed in a 51 to 49 vote to place the tax cut on a fast-track process known as reconciliation. This not only allowed passage of tax cut legislation with just a majority vote -- compared to 60 votes under Senate rules -- but limited debate to 20 hours." The article continued: "Democrats 'felt they were being mistreated, and the majority was trampling on the minority's rights,' said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). 'The procedure was an abuse of the process.' "

Further, in 2003, Specter voted for the Senate version of the fiscal 2004 budget resolution that called for additional tax cuts to be considered under reconciliation, for the final version of the 2004 budget resolution (which passed the Senate on a 50-50 vote with then-Vice President Dick Cheney breaking the tie by voting in favor of the resolution), and for the final tax cut legislation, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003. He also voted against an amendment to the Senate version of the budget resolution that would have stripped reconciliation instructions from the resolution. In offering his amendment, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) asserted that the reconciliation instructions constituted "an abuse of the budget process." And in 2005 and 2006, Specter voted for the fiscal 2006 budget resolution, which called for additional tax cuts to be considered under reconciliation, against an amendment that required those tax cuts to be considered under regular order, and for the tax cut bill, the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005.

From the April 1 Washington Post article:

Senate Democrats are increasingly receptive to using a controversial budget shortcut to ease passage of health-care reform legislation, a shift in stance encouraged by the White House but denounced by Republicans, who say the maneuver is an unfair partisan trick.

The procedure, known as reconciliation, is included in the House's budget blueprint but is not in the Senate version. Both resolutions are expected to win easy passage this week and will be combined into a single fiscal framework later this month.

The House reconciliation language would allow lawmakers to bundle into a single bill all facets of health-care reform, combining the coverage initiatives that President Obama has advocated with the tax increases and spending cuts needed to offset the program's high costs. The rule also would protect the legislation from a Republican filibuster, allowing what is perhaps the most ambitious domestic policy bill Congress has considered in years to pass the Senate with 51 votes.

Senate Democratic leaders said they would continue to seek bipartisan support as health-care legislation advances in the months ahead, treating reconciliation as a fallback option, to be exercised if Republican support does not materialize. "We're going to decide whether it should be used," said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). "I don't know why everybody's up in arms."

But Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), a moderate Republican, warned that adopting reconciliation would be "a colossal mistake." Democrats remain two votes short of a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate, and Specter is a key swing vote.

"There are those of us on this side of the aisle who have cooperated" Specter said. "I think it fair to say that to misuse the reconciliation process would be a very strong blow against bipartisanship and cooperation. Obviously, it would impede future activity by the Obama administration in reaching across the aisle to get necessary Republican votes."

Advocates defend reconciliation as a legitimate tool used more often by Republicans in recent years, most notably to pass President George W. Bush's tax cuts. President Bill Clinton relied on the procedure to push through two of his signature achievements, welfare reform and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. "Why are they so afraid?" asked Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). "Reconciliation is a rule allowed by the Senate."

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