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Reconciling with reconciliation

Fox News has started calling the reconciliation process "the nuclear option," which implies that Bush's two tax cuts -- both of which went through reconciliation -- were Little Boy and Fat Man, respectively. Nancy Pelosi has a more apt term: "Majority rule." And as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explains in a new report, there's nothing uncommon about that. Emphasis theirs:

Congress has employed reconciliation many times to make major policy shifts. These include sweeping welfare reform enacted in 1996, massive tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and creation or expansion of several health coverage programs. Using reconciliation to help enact health reform would be consistent with past congressional practice, as Thomas Mann and Molly Reynolds of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute have explained.

The sharp break with past practice took place in 2001, when Congress used reconciliation to enact a large tax cut that greatly increased federal deficits and debt. Prior to 2001, every major reconciliation bill enacted into law reduced the deficit. In 2003 Congress used reconciliation to pass another round of deficit-increasing tax cuts.

If health reform is enacted in part through use of the reconciliation process, the reconciliation legislation will have to be designed so it does not add to the deficit. In 2007, the House and Senate adopted rules preventing Congress from using reconciliation to increase deficits and debt as was done in 2001 and 2003.

Since rising health costs are the single largest reason for projected long-run deficits, it is appropriate that health reform be considered through the reconciliation process.

More here. As they imply, health-care reform is actually much closer to the intent of the reconciliation process -- which was designed, in large part, to reduce the deficit -- than the tax cuts were. That's why the tax cuts had to sunset after 10 years: Reconciliation has rules to prevent deficit increases, and the Republicans were trying to break them. Health-care reform, by contrast, is designed to reduce the deficit, both in the first 10 years and at an accelerating pace after that.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 27, 2010; 5:37 PM ET
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Did the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities send a copy of this report to Harry and Nancy, by chance???

Posted by: onewing1 | January 27, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes I feel like I'm taking crazy pills...

Posted by: Quant | January 27, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I'm a bit confused. If programs passed through reconciliation cannot increase the deficit, how was the process used to pass Medicare+Choice (Medicare Advantage)? Anyone know the answer?

Posted by: bralco | January 27, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

What, Fox is pouring gasoline on the hyper-partisanship, and pretty much lying to boot?

I'm, I'm just aghast.

Posted by: RalfW | January 27, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

If I have said it once, I have said it a million times, if you can look at the entitlement programs that we have in this country now and how much they cost and then claim with a straight face that this new one is going to save money and not lead to increased deficits you are not only a partisan hack, you are a naive idiot.

Posted by: Bob65 | January 27, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

"The sharp break with past practice took place in 2001, when Congress used reconciliation to enact a large tax cut that greatly increased federal deficits and debt."

It was surprising that he didn't show the tables of federal revenues for the years following the tax cut, because . . . oh, wait, it's not surprising, because if you look at the actual tax revenues for the years 2001 - 2007 it's a tenuous claim at best. At best, the argument should be "revenues were less than they could have been in an ideal world, assuming the tax cuts had zero effect on economic growth, and had the Republicans not been spending like drunken sailor on programs we wouldn't dream of cutting now, the deficit would be a lot lower".

Liberals think Fox is partisan? Wow. First time I've heard that.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 27, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Let's be honest here--if Democrats use reconciliation, it will be a huge break with tradition.

Republicans under Bush used reconciliation to pass massive INCREASES to the deficit.

What Obama proposes now is that we use reconciliation to pass a health bill that will DECREASE the deficit.

That's a huge break with recent tradition. And I think Obama deserves to be called out for it.

Posted by: member8 | January 27, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Nice try Ezra, but the only way "pass it now and fix it later" will work is if the "fix" part is left all warm and fuzzy and undefined until after the "pass" part. Unfortunately for you, Pelosi seems to be insisting on spelling out all of the nasty, expensive, ugly details of the "fix" part first, which will, loathe though you may be to admit it, kill the "pass" part.

Posted by: bgmma50 | January 28, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

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