Hannity conflates reconciliation, “nuclear option” to accuse Democrats of “hypocrisy”

Sean Hannity aired clips of Democratic leaders he falsely claimed were criticizing GOP use of the reconciliation process, and accused them of “hypocrisy” for currently supporting the use of reconciliation to pass healthcare reform. In fact, those Democrats were criticizing a 2005 Republican proposal to change Senate rules that was unrelated to reconciliation, which is a procedure that is part of the Senate rules.

Hannity uses deceptive Breitbart-pushed clips to call Dems hypocrites

From the February 24 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: All right, we're just one day away from the so-called bipartisan summit, and in the spirit of bipartisanship, Prince Harry Reid has issued a message to his friends across the aisle.

REID [2010 clip]: Realistically, they should stop crying about reconciliation as if it's never been done before.

HANNITY: Now oddly, Senator Reid felt differently about the issue when Republicans wanted to use reconciliation to stop Democratic filibusters.

REID [2005 video clip]: A government in which one party has control over all the decisions is bad for America and bad for all our people. Our country works better when we cooperate and work towards compromises that benefit the greatest good and not one group over another.

HANNITY: Now, Reid was not the only one who viewed reconciliation dimly way back when. There was a certain Illinois Senator named Barack Obama who fought bitterly against it as well.

OBAMA [2005 video clip]: What I worry about would be that you essentially have still two chambers, the House and the Senate, but you have simply majoritarian, absolute power on either side. And that's just not what the founders intended.

HANNITY: Wow. I wonder when the mainstream media is going to ask the anointed one about that. Now, they may also want to ask a few questions of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because she was another fierce opponent of the nuclear option back when he served as a senator from New York, and here is what she said back in 2005.

CLINTON [2005 video clip]: So this president has come to the majority here in the Senate and basically said, “Change the rules. Do it the way I want it done.” And I guess there just weren't very many voices on the other side of the aisle that acted the way that previous generations of senators have acted, and said, “Mr. President, we're with you, we support you. But that's a bridge too far, we can't go there. You have to restrain yourself, Mr. President.”

Conservatives, Fox News redefine reconciliation as “nuclear option”

“Nuclear option” was coined by GOP to describe a process to change Senate filibuster rules. The term “nuclear option” was coined by former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), one of the leading advocates of a 2005 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 process is part of congressional budget process, has been repeatedly used by Republican-controlled Senates. 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.”

  • Congressional Research Service reported that Congress used reconciliation process to pass 21 bills between 1980 and 2007. An August 10, 2005, Congressional Research Service (CRS) report lists 19 bills Congress passed that were enacted through reconciliation from FY 1981 to FY 2005 -- 16 of which became law and three of which were vetoed by President Clinton. A separate March 2008 CRS report lists an additional three reconciliation bills passed by Congress since 2005.
  • Reconciliation has repeatedly been used to reform health care. On February 24, NPR noted that many “major changes to health care laws” passed via reconciliation. Additionally, during a February 24 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition, correspondent Julie Rovner quoted George Washington University health policy 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.” Indeed, reconciliation was used to pass COBRA, Medicare Advantage, the Patient Self-Determination Act, and several other health care reforms.
  • GOP used reconciliation to pass Bush's tax cuts. Republicans used the reconciliation process to pass Bush's 2001 tax cut, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001; Bush's 2003 tax cuts, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003; and Bush's 2005 tax cuts, the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the 2001 tax cuts would “reduce projected total surpluses by approximately $1.35 trillion over the 2001-2011 period” ; that the 2003 tax cuts would “reduce projected total surpluses by approximately $1.35 trillion over the 2001-2011 period” ; and that the 2005 tax cuts would “reduce federal revenues ... by $69.1 billion over the 2006-2015 period.”

Conservatives falsely label reconciliation as “nuclear option.” Media Matters for America has highlighted how conservative media and politicians, as well as Fox News hosts and guests, have pushed 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.

Dems in video clip weren't talking about reconciliation

Clips of Democratic senators -- who weren't discussing reconciliation -- lifted from Breitbart.tv. The clips of Reid, Obama, and Clinton that Hannity aired were first compiled in a video created by the conservative website Naked Emperor News and promoted on Breitbart.tv -- where “NEN videos premiere” -- and Fox Nation. As Media Matters for America noted, they were expressing opposition to the 2005 Republican proposal to change the Senate rules to eliminate use of the filibuster for judicial nominations -- not to the use of reconciliation, as Hannity claimed.

Gingrich claims reconciliation is “Chicago machine politics,” “Hugo Chavez majoritarian rule”

HANNITY: All right, so you hear Barack Obama, you hear Harry Reid now, you hear Harry Reid then, you hear Senator Clinton. We could have added Joe Biden to the list. What do you make of the hypocrisy?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I think that what you're seeing is a Chicago machine politics approach that basically says, if we can run over you and mug you, then we're gonna get away with it, and I think what they don't understand is that this is not Chicago, that the United States is not gonna tolerate a group of people trying to apply kind of a Hugo Chavez majoritarian rule in the Senate. I don't think it'll happen. If it did happen, I don't think the House would pass whatever came out of the Senate. I think the country would be so enraged.

In Congress, Gingrich repeatedly supported use of reconciliation

On Hannity, Gingrich lauds Clinton-era process that led to welfare reform and a tax cut -- both of which were passed through reconciliation. During his Hannity interview, discussing what Hannity called his proposal that Republicans should “demand equal time” during the health care summit, former House Speaker and current Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich stated: “I feel about this very deeply because it's the base for the kind of responsible bipartisanship we had to exercise with Bill Clinton, when we did get welfare reform signed, we did get a tax cut signed.” The full title of the “welfare reform” bill to which Gingrich referred is the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (emphasis added), passed through the reconciliation process with Gingrich's support. Gingrich also voted for the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, which was also passed through reconciliation.

Gingrich also supported Balanced Budget Acts of 1995 and 1997, which were passed through reconciliation. Gingrich voted for the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which was passed under reconciliation and created the State Children's Health Insurance Program. He also voted for the Balanced Budget Act of 1995, which was passed through reconciliation but vetoed by Clinton.

Andrew Sandquist, a Media Matters intern, also contributed to this item.