Why reconciliation isn’t an option

WHY RECONCILIATION ISN’T AN OPTION…. As of a few days ago, there 53 votes in the Senate to pass the original Democratic tax plan, which had already been approved by the House. Obviously, 53 votes is a majority. Equally obvious is the fact that 53 votes isn’t a the supermajority needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.

With that in mind, Dennis raises a question in the comments section that others might be wondering about as well: “Couldn’t the Senate pass a limited version of the Obama tax cut ($250K or less) as a reconciliation bill? There are the votes for that, right?”

Regrettably, this isn’t an option. Ezra Klein had an item the other day explaining why.

1) They already used it: You can’t call an audible and switch over to budget reconciliation in the middle of a legislative fight. Reconciliation instructions have to be written into the budget for the year in which they’re used. That means planning about a year in advance. When Democrats passed the 2010 budget, in April of 2009, they did include reconciliation instructions, but they were for health care and student-loan reform. And they passed that bill back in March. You can only use reconciliation once a year, so that’s that.

2) They passed a rule making it impossible to use reconciliation for bills that increase the deficit: When George W. Bush passed his tax cuts through budget reconciliation, Democrats were horrified. It was the first time reconciliation had been used to increase the federal budget. So when they took back power, they decided to prove their commitment to fiscal rectitude by passing a new rule: Henceforth, budget reconciliation could only be used for legislation that would reduce the deficit. This provided Democrats with precisely no protection against the charge that they loved deficits, and it’ll likely be changed back as soon as Republicans retake the Senate, but for now, a rule’s a rule.

I wish majority-rule were enough, but any resolution to the debate over taxes will need 60 votes. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.