On August 4, Fox News Washington correspondent James Rosen reported that the budget reconciliation process Democrats have "threatened" to use to pass health care reform legislation is an "arcane parliamentary tactic" and that it "is, as a matter of law, used only for budget bills to achieve deficit reduction." In fact, during the Bush administration, the Republican majority frequently used reconciliation to pass major initiatives not aimed at deficit reduction, including then-President Bush's tax cuts.
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From the August 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
ROSEN: Prompting these renewed fears about a breakdown in bipartisanship were remarks Monday by Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, who threatened the use of arcane parliamentary tactics to bypass a potential GOP filibuster and secure final passage on a simple majority vote.
SCHUMER [audio clip]: These plans will likely be considered only as a last resort, but make no mistake about it, they remain on the table. No matter what happens, we're going to enact health care reform by the end of the year.
ROSEN: The tactic Schumer threatened to use is known as reconciliation. It is, as a matter of law, used only for budget bills to achieve deficit reduction. To use it on health care legislation means the Democrats would likely have to break up their agenda into at least two separate votes. And the budget committee's ranking Republican told Fox News there will be a showdown with the GOP.
Republicans repeatedly used reconciliation to pass Bush tax cuts
GOP passed 2001 tax cuts through reconciliation. The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, which provided for tax cuts and prevented tax increases, was passed through the reconciliation process. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the bill, as cleared by Congress, would "reduce projected total surpluses by approximately $1.35 trillion over the 2001-2011 period."
GOP passed 2003 tax cuts through reconciliation. The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, which accelerated previously enacted tax cuts and provided for additional tax reductions, was passed through the reconciliation process. The CBO estimated that the bill, as cleared by Congress, "would increase budget deficits ... by $349.7 billion over the 2003-2013 period.
GOP passed 2005 tax cuts through reconciliation. The Tax Increase Prevention Reconciliation Act of 2005, which prevented tax cuts from expiring and raised the Alternative Minimum Tax exemption, was passed through the reconciliation process. The CBO estimated that the bill, as cleared by Congress and signed by the president, would "reduce federal revenues ... by $69.1 billion over the 2006-2015 period."
In reports, media have ignored Republicans' past support of the tactic
In quoting GOP criticism of reconciliation, media have ignored their past support of the tactic. Media Matters for America has documented a pattern of journalists uncritically quoting Republican senators criticizing the decision to use reconciliation as overly partisan, without noting that the senators they are quoting -- including Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) -- voted to allow the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass legislation during the Bush administration, including the tax cuts.
Reconciliation not "as a matter of law" limited to deficit reduction
Reconciliation process can be used for changes in mandatory spending or revenue programs. 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."