Conservative media revive “nuclear option” falsehood to accuse Democrats of reconciliation hypocrisy

Conservative media are pushing the falsehood that “the nuclear option” refers to the budget reconciliation process in order to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy for previously criticizing the nuclear option and now considering using reconciliation to pass health care reform. But Democratic criticism of a 2005 Republican proposal to change filibuster rules is in no way inconsistent with passing health care reform through reconciliation -- a process that has repeatedly been used to pass legislation, including major health care reform.

Conservative media spread video and message that Dems are hypocrites on “nuclear option” headline: “Obama & Dems in '05: 51 Vote 'Nuclear Option' Is 'Arrogant' Power Grab Against the Founder's Intent.” On February 24, posted video showing Democratic senators expressing opposition to a Republican proposal that would have eliminated use of the filibuster for judicial nominations. Text accompanying the video states, “Biden: 'I pray God when the Democrats take back control we don't make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.' ”

Beck: "[T]hey all stood up and said this was such a bad idea." On his radio show, Glenn Beck played clips from the video and said of the possibility that Democrats might use reconciliation: “Why are they threatening this so much? Especially when they all stood up and said it was such a bad idea.” [Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program, 2/24/10]

Limbaugh: Democrats were “against doing this precise thing back in 2005.” On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh said of Democrats, “They are going to blow up the Senate rules, they are gonna nuke the Senate rules, in order to get health care through the Senate. They were all against doing this precise thing back in 2005 to confirm judges.” [Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/24/10]

Drudge links to video. In red text above the site's logo, the Drudge Report echoed Breitbart's headline and linked to the video (click on image to enlarge):

Drudge headline

Fox Nation embeds video. The front page of the Fox News website Fox Nation featured a headline on its front page reading “Video Flashback: Dems Howl with Rage Over Nuclear Option”:

Fox Nation headline

The headline linked to a Fox Nation page on which the video was embedded.

HotAir: “Video: God doesn't listen to Joe Biden.” blogger Ed Morrissey wrote in a February 24 post, “Or maybe God just figured that Joe Biden wasn't terribly serious about this 2005 prayer, unearthed by Breitbart TV and Naked Emperor News today." Morrissey also embedded the video in the post. “Flashback: Obama, Dems Call 50-Vote Nuclear Option 'Arrogant' Power Grab.” In a February 24 post that also contained the video, blogger Meredith Jessup wrote, “With rumors Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might try to force a nuclear option vote on Obama's health care plan, this video is especially poignant today.”

“Nuclear option” was coined by GOP to describe a process to change Senate filibuster rules

Lott described proposal to change filibuster rules as “nuclear option.” The term “nuclear option” was coined by former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), one of the leading advocates of the proposal to change the Senate rules on filibusters for judicial nominations. 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.

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 repeatedly used reconciliation to pass former President Bush's agenda. Republicans used the budget reconciliation process to pass Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts as well as the 2005 “Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act.” The Senate also used the 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 Bush did not contain the provision on drilling.)

Reconciliation has been used to pass major changes to health care laws

Reconciliation has repeatedly been used to reform health care. On February 24, NPR noted that many “major changes to health care laws” have passed via reconciliation. These measures include COBRA, which allows laid-off workers to keep their insurance coverage, and the State Children's Health Insurance Program:

NPR reconciliation graphic

On NPR, Prof. Rosenbaum stated, "[T]he way in which virtually all of health reform ... has happened over the last 30 years has been the reconciliation process." Additionally, during the February 24 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition, health policy correspondent Julie Rovner quoted George Washington University professor Sara Rosenbaum saying: “In fact, the way in which virtually all of health reform, with very, very limited exceptions, has happened over the past 30 years has been the reconciliation process.”