The U.S. House of Representatives passed the tax bill, formally called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, on Tuesday in a historic, party line vote.
Within hours, House Republicans learned they’d have to do it all over again on Wednesday and revote on the bill, thanks to an obscure rule in the U.S. Senate.
In an unusual turn of events, Democrats led by Sen. Bernie Sanders argued that three provisions of the GOP tax bill violate the Byrd Rule. But what is the Byrd Rule?
Named after former Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the Byrd Rule, also known as the Byrd Act, can be invoked to stop the Senate from considering “extraneous” additions to bills that are allowed to pass with 50 votes. The rule is meant to streamline reconciliation – the process by which the House and the Senate negotiate over separate bills passed through each change and turn them into one piece of legislation for the president to sign.
There are six criteria that could lead to a provision in a bill being deemed “extraneous” and therefore in violation of the Byrd Rule:
• do not produce a change in outlays or revenues;
• produce changes in outlays or revenue which are merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision;
• are outside the jurisdiction of the committee that submitted the title or provision for inclusion in the reconciliation measure;
• increase outlays or decrease revenue if the provision’s title, as a whole, fails to achieve the Senate reporting committee’s reconciliation instructions;
• increase net outlays or decrease revenue during a fiscal year after the years covered by the reconciliation bill unless the provision’s title, as a whole, remains budget neutral;
• contain recommendations regarding the OASDI (social security) trust funds.
According to Sanders and the Democrats, three provisions of the tax bill passed by the House violated the Byrd rule. They are the Cruz provision, which allows 529 education savings plans to be used for homeschool expenses; a provision on determining university endowment taxes, and the title of the bill, itself, “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”
Sanders and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) raised the provisions to the Senate parliamentarian, who found them to be in violation of the Byrd Rule. As a result, Sanders and Wyden will raise a point of order to get the provisions removed from the Senate version of the bill – which is expected to pass on Tuesday night.
This will require the House to undertake a tax bill revote on Wednesday. None of the provisions are major and none are expected to influence the outcome of the vote.
“We applaud the parliamentarian for determining that three provisions in this disastrous bill are in violation of the Byrd Rule,” said Sanders and Wyden in a joint statement.
Ultimately the legislative technicality may be little more than a speed bump to the GOP tax bill, which is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump before Christmas.
Later on Tuesday, Sanders – and ardent opponent of the tax bill – offered a tongue-in-cheek Twitter poll to rename the tax bill. “Trillions 4 Billionaires” was narrowly leading Tuesday night.