What Is The Byrd Rule: GOP Tax Bill Blocked Because It Violates Key Senate Rule

Paul Ryan may have celebrated the passage of his tax bill too early. Reuters

The Senate parliamentarian blocked the Republicans' $1.5-trillion tax cut plan hours before it was set to pass because the legislation violated the Byrd rule which prohibits provisions that are viewed as "extraneous" to the budget.

As a result, several provisions of the so-called "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" will be removed and the House, which had passed the bill in a party-line vote earlier Tuesday, will vote again on the truncated bill on Wednesday.

The two excised provisions included one that dictated the criteria used to determine whether private university endowments are subject to excise tax, and another that allowed the use of 529 plans to cover home-schooling expenses, which was pushed by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas.

The Senate is expected to vote on the revised bill on Tuesday night, setting up the House's rubber stamp the next day.

The bill is still expected to pass easily, but it delivers an embarrassing blow to Republicans who held no hearings in their rush to complete the 1,000-plus page bill, which was released late Friday night, just days before the vote.

"The House revote is the latest evidence of just how shoddily written the GOP tax scam really is," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Senator Bernie Sanders hailed the ruling by the parliamentarian. "In the mad dash to provide tax breaks for their billionaire campaign contributors, my Republican colleagues forgot to comply with the rules of the Senate," he said in a statement.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer agreed that Republican bill was rushed and sloppy. "Republicans wrote a bill that hadn't even been read carefully enough to ensure it complied with Senate procedural rules," he wrote in a statement. "Whatever happened to Republicans' insistence on reading bills before voting on them?"

Hey @SpeakerRyan- since we have to vote on the #GOPTaxScam again tomorrow maybe we can take out the parts that raise taxes on 86M families, kicks 13M off their health insurance, & gives 83% of the benefits to the wealthiest 1%? The middle class would appreciate it.

— Alma S. Adams (@RepAdams) December 19, 2017

Each year Congress has the option of adding special rules to their budget, known as reconciliation instructions. This powerful tool allows Senators to pass legislation with just 50 votes instead of the usual 60-vote threshold—and also makes the bill not subject to filibuster. Spending and tax bills, including this one, are usually passed under the protection of reconciliation.

But the process is governed by the Byrd Rule, which limits the kind of legislative provisions allowed. Under the Byrd rule, named after legendary late Senator Robert Byrd, a provision is considered extraneous if it increases the deficit beyond a 10-year window, makes changes to Social Security or does not produce a change in revenues.

The rules only apply to Senate, but the House will have to vote again because the same bill must pass both houses before it can be sent to the president.

Byrd introduced the legislation in 1985 in order to more easily pass deficit-reducing bills which cut spending or raise taxes. "Extraneous" refers to anything that doesn't have to do with federal revenue or spending.

If someone believes a bill violates the rule, he or she can request an audit by the Senate parliamentarian, who issues the final ruling. The Senate can then overturn the ruling by obtaining 60 votes. Or it can revise the bill, as the Senate chose to do in this case.

The House will vote AGAIN on the #GOPTaxScam tomorrow because the bill contains a number of provisions that violate Senate rules.

Shoddy bill, shoddy process. pic.twitter.com/vtyDcgirPG

— Nita Lowey (@NitaLowey) December 19, 2017

President Trump has called for an extension of reconciliation voting majority rules to apply to all legislation that passes through Senate. "If Republicans are going to pass great future legislation in the Senate, they must immediately go to a 51 vote majority, not senseless 60," he wrote in a tweet.

If Republicans are going to pass great future legislation in the Senate, they must immediately go to a 51 vote majority, not senseless 60...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017