In 2001 and 2003, George W. Bush and the Republicans had to use budget reconciliation to increase the deficit, to implement the Bush tax cuts. The 2003 version passed in the Senate by 50-50, with Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote. Democrats were so horrified by this that they passed a rule that budget reconciliation can only be used for the purposes of reducing the deficit. House Republicans have essentially repealed that rule.
The new rules would stand the reconciliation process on its head, by allowing the House to use reconciliation to push through bills that greatly increase deficits as long as the deficit increases result from tax cuts, while barring the use of reconciliation in the House for legislation that reduces the deficit if that legislation contains a net increase in spending (no matter how small) that is more than offset by revenue-raising provisions.
This is similar to “Cut-Go,” the new version of paygo brought forward by House Republicans, mandating that all spending bills must get offset with spending cuts elsewhere and not tax increases. The entire House GOP rulebook greases the skids for tax cuts without any restrictions on how they affect the deficit.
I don’t really see why this is a big problem yet. Democrats are still in control of the Senate, which is where reconciliation really needs to be used, because it avoids a filibuster. And as far as I know, Democratic reconciliation rules are still operative. It was the reason why they couldn’t use reconciliation to just extend the tax cuts on the first $250,000 of income this year. And let’s face it, Democrats are not above carving out special circumstances and incorporating them into their rulebook. The paygo law they passed included an exception for those tax cuts on the first $250,000 of income.
Of course, the House Republican rules are more like a blueprint for what we could expect if the Republicans take over the other branches of government. And we know that because this is precisely what Republicans did in 2001 when they took over the government – they changed the rules to allow for budget-busting tax cuts. They also increased spending under Bush, mainly to benefit their own private interests. The difference here is that the rulebook is tilted toward tax cuts and spending cuts. And you have outliers like Rand Paul who want to attach tax cuts to every “major” piece of legislation. So there’s this combination of using the deficit to slash spending, while ignoring the deficit to cut taxes.
Also, I think you plainly see how Republicans have no problem with Congressional custom, and will change the rules to meet their ends without delay. So those who think we can’t change the filibuster because of “what might happen when Democrats are in the minority” should take note.