Sammon falsely compares budget reconciliation process to threat of "nuclear option"

››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

Bill Sammon falsely compared the budget reconciliation process some progressives have suggested be used to advance health-care reform legislation to the "nuclear option," which Republicans proposed in 2005 to prohibit filibusters of judicial nominations.

Echoing a reported Republican talking point, on Fox News' Happening Now, Fox News vice president of news and Washington managing editor Bill Sammon falsely compared the budget reconciliation process some progressives have suggested be used to advance health-care reform legislation to the "nuclear option," a term referring to the Senate rule change Republicans proposed in 2005 that would have prohibited filibusters of judicial nominations. In fact, there is no comparison between progressives' proposed use of the budget reconciliation process, which already exists under congressional rules and has been used by Republicans in the past to pass legislation with only a majority of votes in the Senate, and the Republicans' prior proposal to change Senate rules to require a majority of votes to confirm judicial nominees.

The budget reconciliation process is defined by the U.S. House Committee on Rules as "part of the congressional budget process ... utilized when Congress issues directives to legislate policy changes in mandatory spending (entitlements) or revenue programs (tax laws) to achieve the goals in spending and revenue contemplated by the budget resolution."

Discussing Democratic efforts to advance health care reform, Sammon said, "I think they have built in that eventuality that they have to use the nuclear option." He continued: "By the way, when Democrats do it, we're supposed to call it reconciliation. When Republicans do it, we call it the nuclear option." Rather than correcting Sammon's false comparison, anchor Bret Baier interrupted: "And again, usually you have to get 60 votes to get it all through, but this would be an option where they could get 51 and essentially bypass Republicans." Sammon replied: "I met with two senators this week on Capitol Hill who said if it comes down to that on October 15, which is the tripwire mechanism -- after that you can invoke the nuclear option -- they said the Senate will come to a grinding halt. No business will get done. This will be war on the Hill."

In a March 29 article, The New York Times reported:

Some Republicans have likened the building struggle over budget reconciliation to the 2005 Senate fight over Democratic filibusters against President George W. Bush's judicial nominees.

Frustrated at the opposition, Republicans warned that they would invoke the ''nuclear option'' and change Senate rules to ban filibusters against executive branch nominations. Democrats characterized that as an assault on the very nature of the Senate and threatened to bring the chamber to a standstill.

As Media Matters for America has documented and Fox News contributor Juan Williams noted during the segment, numerous Republican senators supported using the budget reconciliation process to pass major Bush administration initiatives, such as the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts.

The term "nuclear option" was coined by then-Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), one of the leading advocates of the proposed rule change. As Media Matters noted, after Republican strategists deemed the term a political liability, Republican senators began to attribute it to Democrats. At the time, many in the news media followed suit, repeating the Republicans' false attribution of the term to the Democrats.

From the June 23 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:

BAIER: Yesterday at an event, President Obama talked at the end of it about the chances of health care. Take a listen.

OBAMA [video clip]: And to those who here in Washington who've grown accustomed to sky-is-falling prognoses and the certainties that we cannot get this done, I have to repeat and revive an old saying we had from the campaign: Yes, we can. We are going to get this done.

BAIER: Charles, he almost said -- he was trying to convince people -- it's not done yet. Don't listen to the naysayers.

KRAUTHAMMER: When he says "yes, we can," it's because he's worried about that we can't. There's a lot of pushback. I think what really happened is last week they got hit with sticker shock. The CBO --

BAIER: Congressional Budget Office.

KRAUTHAMMER: -- put a number on the cost of the plans, either a trillion or 1.6 trillion. And there's scrambling among Democrats because that would explode the budget and it would be a catastrophe. And right now, the president is trying to salvage elements of it -- universality is extremely important, but that's going to have to be cut back because of the expense. I think it's really in trouble as a result of that.

BAIER: But yet, Juan, they could have the votes if they have it under reconciliation, a move on Capitol Hill. They could only need 51 votes if --

WILLIAMS: Yeah, oh, boy, that would be -- look, let me tell you something, that's going ballistic. That's going nuclear, as they say in politics around here, to use reconciliation as a way to force health care through. They hope to avoid that. There are some people like Nancy Pelosi who say, "You know what? Republicans did this, and we can do it." But the Democrats, and especially the Obama White House, want to reserve that for something that would be of ultimate importance. Health care is very important to them, but they haven't attached that significance quite yet to it. So what right now they're trying to do is -- sausage factory is the way I think of it. They're trying to make compromises, trying to make deals to bring on the conservative Democrats to be sure they have sufficient votes to get it through.

SAMMON: I think they have built in that eventuality that they have to use the nuclear option. By the way, when Democrats do it, we're supposed to call it reconciliation. When Republicans do it, we call it the nuclear option. But they built this in --

BAIER: And again, usually you have to get 60 votes to get it all through, but this would be an option where they could get 51 and essentially bypass Republicans.

SAMMON: I met with two senators this week on Capitol Hill who said if it comes down to that on October 15, which is the tripwire mechanism -- after that you can invoke the nuclear option -- they said the Senate will come to a grinding halt. No business will get done. This will be war on the Hill.

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