Quick Fact: FoxNews.com repeatedly misuses “nuclear option” term

In a FoxNews.com article, senior Capitol Hill producer Trish Turner repeatedly claimed that Democrats are considering using the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform legislation, and referred to that procedure as the “nuclear option.” But the reconciliation process is not the nuclear option, which refers to a procedure that would be used to change Senate rules; reconciliation requires no such rule changes and has been used many times in the past.

From the January 19 FoxNews.com article, headlined “Top Senate Democrat Outlines 'Nuclear Option' Strategy for Health Care” :

A top Senate Democrat for the first time Tuesday acknowledged that the party is prepared to deal with health care reform by using a controversial legislative tactic known as the “nuclear option” if Republican Scott Brown wins the Massachusetts Senate election.


First, he said the House could simply approve the Senate bill, sending it straight to President Obama's desk.

Then, Durbin said, the Senate could make changes to the bill by using the nuclear option, known formally as “reconciliation,” a tactic that would allow Democrats to adjust parts of health care reform with just a 51-vote majority.

FACT: “Nuclear option” was coined to describe the process to change Senate filibuster rules

Lott described proposal to change filibuster rules as nuclear option. The term “nuclear option” was coined by Sen. Trent Lott, one of the leading advocates of a proposal to change the Senate rule that requires a three-fifths supermajority to invoke cloture and end a filibuster. After Republican strategists deemed the term a political liability, Republican senators began to attribute it to Democrats. As Media Matters for America noted, at the time, many in the news media followed suit, repeating the Republicans' false attribution of the term to the Democrats.

FACT: Reconciliation is already part of Senate procedure, and Republicans have used it repeatedly

Reconciliation process is part of Congressional budget process. 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.”

Republicans have repeatedly used reconciliation to pass President Bush's agenda. Republicans used the budget reconciliation process to pass President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts as well as the 2005 “Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act.” The Senate also used the reconciliation procedure to pass a bill containing a provision that would permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (The final version of that bill signed by President Bush did not contain the provision on drilling.)

FACT: Fox News routinely misuses “nuclear option”

Fox Nation, Fox News personalities routinely invoke the “nuclear option” while discussing reconciliation. Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity, Dick Morris, Bret Baier, and Greta Van Susteren have all falsely compared reconciliation to the “nuclear option.”

Andrew Sandquist is an intern at Media Matters