Fiscal cliff crisis: Made in the GOP
It started in 2001, when the government was running its fourth straight year of surplus and President George W. Bush moved to cut taxes as he’d promised in his campaign. He faced a serious hurdle, a Senate split 50-50, far short of the 60 votes needed to clear Senate rules and enact his sweeping tax reduction.
There was a way out, but it was a tactic that the staid Senate was reluctant to use, called reconciliation.
Created to make it easier to deal with budgets, it also became a tool for skirting the 60-vote threshold since only 51 votes were needed. There was a major catch: Any such bill could only make changes in federal revenue for a maximum of 10 years.
With support from some Democrats, the Bush tax cuts passed the Senate with 58 votes. They were temporary.
The precedent was set, and when Bush came back with a new, more controversial round of cuts in 2003, the Republicans used the reconciliation rule again. This time, the bill passed with 51 votes, as Vice President Dick Cheney broke a 50-50 tie.
In May 2001, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was confident the cuts would be extended forever. ‘To do anything other than that is to raise taxes on the American people,’ he said.
The tax cuts contributed to a decade of record deficits and debt, aided by rising spending on a new Medicare benefit and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The national debt, $5.7 trillion when Bush took office in January 2001, had grown to $10.6 trillion by the time he left eight years later. It grew more under Obama.
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