Former Reconciliation Supporter Hatch Attacks Reconciliation As Unconstitutional

Congressional Quarterly/Newscom

On April 16, 2001, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) took to Fox News to boast about the GOP’s first major use of the budget reconciliation process in the Bush-era. “I think we can do a reconciliation bill that’ll have an overwhelming number of senators and congresspeople voting for this $1.3 trillion to $1.6 trillion tax cut,” he said.

Today, he has a somewhat different take.“To impose the will of some Democrats and to circumvent bipartisan opposition, President Obama seems to be encouraging Congress to use the “reconciliation” process, an arcane budget procedure, to ram through the Senate a multitrillion-dollar health-care bill that raises taxes, increases costs and cuts Medicare to fund a new entitlement we can’t afford,” Hatch writes in a Washington Post op-ed today. “This is attractive to proponents because it sharply limits debate and amendments to a mere 20 hours and would allow passage with only 51 votes (as opposed to the 60 needed to overcome a procedural hurdle). But the Constitution intends the opposite process, especially for a bill that would affect one-sixth of the American economy.”

A few quick points on this:

1). The budget reconciliation process is not being considered for a “multi-trillion dollar health-care bill.” That bill (which was scored by the Congressional Budget Office at below a trillion dollars) has already passed the Senate under the standard rules. It achieved a supermajority. The House can now pass that bill, and it can go to the President for signature. Reconciliation is only being discussed as an expedited way to amend that bill, without having to contend with an expected GOP filibuster.

2). Hatch says “the Constitution intends the opposite” but the Constitution says nothing about filibusters. It does allow the Senate to make its own rules, and one of the rules the Senate made for itself is the budget reconciliation process.

In 2001 the Republicans did ultimately succeed at using the budget reconciliation process to pass major tax cuts–a deficit busting measure that didn’t comply with the reconciliation rules, and sunsets every five years. That reconciliation bill passed with 58 votes, including a handful of Democrats.