Now that Sen. Ben Nelson, (D-Neb.) has definitively stated that he opposes the use of reconciliation to pass health care reform, it's worth noting that on at least two previous occasions the Nebraska Democrat had no qualms supporting the budgetary procedure as a means of passing legislation.
On May 26, 2001, Nelson was one of a dozen Democrats to support president George W. Bush's Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001: the massive tax cut package that defined the administration's plans for job growth. The bill was passed using reconciliation -- meaning it wasn't subject to a Democratic filibuster -- and received the support of 58 Senators.
Two years later, Bush had introduced a second tax-cut package, this one entitled The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003. That too was passed through reconciliation with Nelson's vote proving even more critical. The Nebraskan was one of only two Democrats to back the measure, giving it exactly the 50 votes needed to become law (Vice President Dick Cheney voted yea to break the impasse).
There is genuine debate over what exactly reconciliation can be used for. But what's clear is that it can (or should) only be applied to topics with direct budgetary implications. So Nelson's office -- which did not immediately return a request for comment -- could make the case that the procedural maneuver is fair game for tax cuts but not health care. And yet his unwillingness to consider using reconciliation for even the budget-impacting portions of health care reform will likely further irritate members of his own party who certainly remember the senator's votes on the Bush tax cuts.
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