Reid Vows To Use Reconciliation For Health Care Reform? Good.

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Democrats, Health Care, Legislation, Reid, Republicans

He’s saying it will pass in the next 60 days…

“I’ve had many conversations this week with the president, his chief of staff, and Speaker Pelosi,” Reid said during an appearance Friday evening on “Face to Face with Jon Ralston” in Nevada. “And we’re really trying to move forward on this.”

The majority leader said that while Democrats have a number of options, they would likely use the budget reconciliation process to pass a series of fixes to the first healthcare bill passed by the Senate in November. These changes are needed to secure votes for passage of that original Senate bill in the House.

“We’ll do a relatively small bill to take care of what we’ve already done,” Reid said, affirming that Democrats would use the reconciliation process.

Will it happen?

Well, I have my doubts, but at a certain point the Dems have to put up or shut up and get something done. Maybe something different will happen because of Obama’s health care summit, but I’m thinking that’s likely a tactic by the White House to say, “So all of those ideas that you’re talking about…those are in the bill. Don’t force us to use reconciliation on this…because we will.”

And to that point, I think we all need to take a step back and remember that the bill they have now represents a pretty significant bipartisan compromise. Republicans can talk all they want about not being part of the actual drafting of the legislation, but they were part of the debate from day one. And this reform bill doesn’t include a single, federally controlled public option, but it still cuts the budget deficit significantly over the next decade and it has numerous insurance reforms in it that will help all Americans in some way. And with insurance companies raising their rates like crazy due to people dropping coverage because they’re unemployed, we all know that this needs to happen sooner rather than later.

But I want to talk about reconciliation for a moment…some politicos are calling it unconstitutional, hyperpartisan, etc. Obviously that’s nonsense. Bush used it 6 times during his presidency and somehow Republicans were perfectly fine with it then. And as I’ve done more research into reconciliation and filibusters, a very solid argument can be made that the filibuster is the result of a legislative mistake by the founders…which necessitates reconciliation as the only solution.

From wikipedia…

In 1789, the first U.S. Senate adopted rules allowing the Senate “to move the previous question,” ending debate and proceeding to a vote. Aaron Burr argued that the motion regarding the previous question was redundant, had only been exercised once in the preceding four years, and should be eliminated. In 1806, the Senate agreed, recodifying its rules, and thus the potential for a filibuster sprang into being. Because the Senate created no alternative mechanism for terminating debate, the filibuster became an option for delay and blocking of floor votes.

So, as you can see, the intention of the founders was not to create a procedural mechanism for eternal debate. No, they screwed up. It happens. They weren’t flawless, even though many on the right deify them as the arbiters of everything that is righteous and good and if they wouldn’t approve, well, it’s just not good for America.

And so, we need the reconciliation process to move things forward so the minority can’t hold up progress with their procedural tricks…especially after a rule was made that filibusters can be carried out without somebody actually having to speak.

More importantly, even though many have argued that reconciliation will be misused on a health care bill…those are the same people who will tout the filibuster as necessary and just. Well, sorry, you can’t have it both ways. It makes no sense that we got to the point where we always needs 60 votes in the Senate to pass something. A majority is all that has been needed in the past and that’s the way it should be now. End of story.

More as it develops…


This entry was posted on Saturday, February 20th, 2010 and is filed under Democrats, Health Care, Legislation, Reid, Republicans. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

24 Responses to “Reid Vows To Use Reconciliation For Health Care Reform? Good.”

  1. Simon Says:

    I have to laugh a little, because I wrote a significant chunk of the Wikipedia entry Justin quoted.

    Wikipedia. Deep research. Anyway, to business:

    So, as you can see, the intention of the founders was not to create a procedural mechanism for eternal debate.

    The founders’ intentions are irrelevant. The touchstone of constitutional interpretation is the original public meaning of the text; the extent to which the original meaning of the text is ambiguous is the domain of construction. The original meaning of the rules and procedings clause is the same as its current meaning, by-and-large: each house can create its rules. That means the filibuster is constitutional. It means that abolishing the filibuster is unconstitutional. And it means that reconciliation as a means around the filibuster is constitutional.

    Of course, it is also constitutional for the President to paint the Washington Monument pink with a purple capstone. The Constitutionality vel non of an action is the first question—not the last. The Constitution allows many things that are dumb, and so the wisdom of a given action must be considered. Abolishing the filibuster or trying to get around it would be profoundly unwise, something so self-evident that even Chris Dodd gets it. Simply put, if Democrats want to give the country the shaft, I would prefer they grab some paint buckets and use the afore-mentioned strategy.

    The filibuster is not part of the Constitution, but it harmonizes well with the institutional role of the Senate, which exists not to facilitate legislation but to make it more difficult. By contrast, it’s quite difficult to understand the repeated invocations of “the majority” in a body that doesn’t and by design can’t represent per capita. The fetishization of pure democracy becomes particularly acute when it is invoked in the context of a chamber that exists in large part to thwart the majority. The Senate was created to provide institutional representation for the states in the Federal legislative process and to check the democratic branch of government, the House of Representatives. The Seventeenth knocked the former function out of the picture. That leaves the latter: the function of the United States Senate is not, as Justin seems to assume, to pass foolhardy legislation; it serves as “a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions,” Federalist 63, of which this President’s temporary, erroneous, and delusional agenda is a classic example.

  2. Simon Says:

    Come to think of it, one could scarcely ask for a better example of the kind of bill that the Senate exists to thwart than Obamacare: massive, divisive, partisan, sectional, federalizing, novel, ill-considered, needlessly complex, deeply intrusive, and punishingly costly under any realistic projection. We can’t afford not to wait! Far from Obama’s travails demonstrating that the system is broken, they show that even sapped by the Seventeenth Amendment, the system works acceptably well.

  3. Alistair Says:

    It’s about time that Reid & the Democrat use reconciliation since the GOP did it during the Bush administration.

  4. Simon Says:

    Alistair, that argument wasn’t persuasive when Justin advanced it and it’s no more so coming from you. The GOP did it with budget bills, a point that even ThinkProgress can’t quite cover over. That difference is significant. Personally, I’m against such shortcuts for any purpose, but it’s a valid position for someone to support reconciliation for one specific class of bills (budget measures) while opposing its use in other contexts (giant government takeovers). After all, that is Senator Byrd’s position. Now, one could rightly point out that while the GOP used reconciliation for budget bills, those bills were still beyond the scope of reconciliation that Senator Byrd propounds. Quite so. But that can scarcely be called an argument for using reconciliation more broadly—to the contrary, it argues for using reconciliation more narrowly.

  5. Eric Says:

    Simon is correct: reconciliation is used for budget or fiscal matters, it cannot be used to set policy. So it cannot be used to set regulations for HMOs or force Americans to purchase health insurance. This is a desperate bluff by Reid.

  6. FuzzyFace Says:

    I would add – the reconciliation bills during the Bush administration had, at least to an extent, bipartisan support. There were also a reasonable number of Democrats in favor, and the Senate vote in favor was over 60. That suggests that it was NOT used as a way to avoid the filibuster.

    Now, perhaps my research was incomplete and I missed as a case where the GOP used it to pass a completely partisan bill with no Democratic support. If so, it should be trivial to demonstrate. But simply noting that reconciliation was use to pass budget bills is not in of itself a justification for using to pass this monster of a bill that polls have already shown is opposed by the American people.

  7. gerryf Says:

    Yes, buget measures like tax cuts for the wealthy and sweet leases for oil companies so they can reap billions and pay pennies….yes, those are great uses of reconciliation.

    Where was the outrage over reconciliation back then?

    Let’s try it this way–let the Democrats do what they want and then if the people are upset, they can send them packing in November. Worked for the GOP, why not extend the same to the Dems?

  8. Frank Hagan Says:

    Reconciliation was talked about for pushing through judicial appointments, and was considered a “nuclear option” because that was not a historical use of the process. A bi-partisan group of Senators averted using it for appointments and convinced the Republican leadership to not invoke it for anything other than the budgetary processes.

    The filibuster has already been weakened significantly, from 66 to just 60. Still, the Democrats couldn’t get past it. So now they are going to cheat. To pass a bill most Americans don’t want.

    And Justin … the founders? Really? Something decided in 1806 was indeed the “founder’s intent” … for heaven’s sake, one of George Washington’s buddies, George Clinton, was the President of the Senate then (Clinton served as a General in the Revolutionary War, was the first Governor of NY, and was the 4th VP of the US).

    The Senate can change its rules any time it wants, with a simple majority vote after cloture. The Dems should do that, quick, before November. Please, please ….

  9. TerenceC Says:

    So you argue both sides of the question in three sentences -

    “The original meaning of the rules and procedings clause is the same as its current meaning, by-and-large: each house can create its rules. That means the filibuster is constitutional. It means that abolishing the filibuster is unconstitutional.”

    Changing the filibuster is a simple rules change – totally constitutional.

    It’s not an argument for constitutional vs unconstitutional. The rules – as they are – are constitutional. Have a filibuster, get rid of the filibuster – it’s a rules change nothing more. The Issue as I see it is the misuse of the rules to delay EVERYTHING – it hurts every American regardless of political leaning and needs some additional guidance as to use.

    Frankly, I’d like to see the filibuster actually occur – none of these ancient, impotent blow hards have done anything other than make threats – what is that? Make them talk, make them support their positions in public, make them come out of the shadows and speak. I for one would like to hear it – that’s what deliberation is all about, not this incessant and slimey gamesmanship and sound-biteism for the 6:00 news.

  10. Mike A. Says:

    I am curious to the people who frequent Donklephant…why is it the dems have not forced the opponents to physically filibuster? What are the pros and cons to this approach? I don’t see a great downside, but I don’t think in political terms.

    I also resent the implication the dems “cheat” if using reconciliation. If it’s an illegal use of the process, then they should be taken to task. If not, then it’s allowable. If it’s unpopular, vote them out and/or change the rules. The last 2 bush terms showed near disregard for the law, yet that seemed to garner little opposition by the right. The hypocrisy is palpable.

  11. kranky kritter Says:

    It’s not especially surprising to me that instances of reconciliation might rise in response to increased usage of the filibuster. It makes a lot of sense.

    And it doesn’t trouble me that much to see it used here. It’s within the power of the still-substantial democratic majority to do this. Of course, passing some healthcare reform(s) in this way will put the credit or blame (depending on your PoV) squarely with the democratic party. Do democrats as a party really have the courage of their convictions, or will defections sink this effort? We’ll see. It’s fait to assume that many democrats will consider the political cost re-election-wise before lining up behind Reid.

    And to that point, I think we all need to take a step back and remember that the bill they have now represents a pretty significant bipartisan compromise.

    Under what definitions of “bipartisan”and :compromise?” If passing a bill along strict party lines does NOT fit the definition of partisan activity, then what does? Serously. I don’t buy this spin at all. If a bill passes in the way being suggested, it is certainly a partisan bill.

    However both parties must share the blame for that. What the people of America have consistently seen is a total lack of willingness of congresscritters of both parties to work together in good faith to do the people’s business.

    This is why next fall will bring an extremely good opportunity for independents to get elected by pledging to serve the people and do their business in good faith, setting aside party directives and special interest objections. I think the entrenched, entitled representatives of both parties still fail to appreciate the extent to which America feels that congress is miserably failing them.

    Incumbents deserve to be swept out of office for their collective failure as a group to serve the people effectively. And the public mood is surely ripe for this.

  12. WHQ Says:

    So you argue both sides of the question in three sentences -

    “The original meaning of the rules and procedings clause is the same as its current meaning, by-and-large: each house can create its rules. That means the filibuster is constitutional. It means that abolishing the filibuster is unconstitutional.”

    Changing the filibuster is a simple rules change – totally constitutional.

    I read this the same way at first, but now I think it was a typo given the rest of Simon’s comment (ie “unconstitutional” should have read “constitutional”).

  13. TerenceC Says:

    Simon writes so well I am disinclined to give him the benefit of the doubt:)

  14. Frank Hagan Says:

    There is nothing “illegal” about using Reconciliation to pass sweeping legislation, but in a tradition-bound body like the Senate, forward-looking Dems will worry about the precedent it sets. Just as the Republicans did not use it to advance judicial appointments to the floor for a body-wide vote (a far less sweeping purpose) Dems may be hesitant to use it for such a massive reform.

    Dems won’t be in the majority forever. If they do this, in an election year, approval of Congress may sink lower (if that’s even possible; we’re are almost to the level of the Congresscritter’s families and staff as it is).

  15. Simon Says:

    Oops… LOL. I did indeed mean that all three are constitutionally sound: having the filibuster, abolishing the filibuster, and reconciliation as a means around the filibuster is constitutional. I goofed; it happens, although I appreciate Terence’s backhanded compliment. ;)

  16. gerryf Says:

    Yes, Simon does write well…so does John Yoo, but that doesn’t make torture right.

    I’m not saying Simon advocates torture (well, short of a few left-leaning Donklephant commenters), but while

    Obamacare: massive, divisive, partisan, sectional, federalizing, novel, ill-considered, needlessly complex, deeply intrusive, and punishingly costly under any realistic projection. We can’t afford not to wait! Far from Obama’s travails demonstrating that the system is broken, they show that even sapped by the Seventeenth Amendment, the system works acceptably well.

    is extraordinarily well written (as is just about everything he writes), it is not necessarily correct.

  17. Simon Says:

    Well, Gerry, it isn’t necessarily correct—as in, presumably, just because I wrote it. But it is nevertheless correct. I appreciate the compliment, though. :)

  18. TerenceC Says:

    No – it isn’t well written – frankly it’s verbose. However, the existing bill as it stands is a Health Insurance Bailout under any terms. Reconciliation will only be effective if a public option is initiated – since all Congressional reconciliations are specific to budget.

    The Congress can’t use reconciliation to control insurance abuses, but it could use reconciliation to initiate a “public option” (whatever that still means) that through default forces insurance companies to change their business practices because they have a REAL competitor.

    Health Insurance companies do nothing other that aggregate a pool of money – making sure they take their cut from the pool before they do anything with that pool. Government involvement means the Fed’s aggregate the pool of money, take a marginal expense, and use the remainder to pay benefits. I don’t care what procedural moves need to happen, but when I am faced with 2 groups who want to aggregate money for the same purpose and one group wants to snag 30% off the top and the other group wants to snag 3% – it’s an easy decision, and one that should have been made a long time ago – no matter what procedure is needed to make it happen.

  19. Simon Says:

    TerenceC Says:

    No – it isn’t well written – frankly it’s verbose.

    Not really. While good writing is concise, efficient, and elegant, it is also true (as I’ve noted) that verbosity is a function of the ratio of words to ideas. A bare word count tells us nothing. If I had described Obamacare as “huge, gigantic, massive, expensive, and costly,” you would have a point, but each of the attributes I described it as exemplifying represent distinct concepts.

  20. rick g Says:

    If the Health Care reform bill is so good why do they have to bypass Senate rules, their own huge majority, and the American people, to pass it?

  21. Chris Says:

    You are adorable simon.

  22. David P. Summers Says:

    If the Democrats pass something by 51 votes that means the Republicans can just undo it as soon as they get a bare majority (possibly in less than a year), and do anything else they think they can use tactic as a precedence for.

    The filibuster is always unpopular with the party in power, is prevents “ping-pong” politics where just bounce between one partisan approach and another without ever giving either (or a compromise between the two) a chance to work.

  23. David P. Summers Says:

    As a second comment, I think most things I’ve head said, on all sides, have been the wrong direction. There was a good article on that in San Jose Mercury news…
    http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_14456087

    We currently have a system that manages to be a private system without any of the benefits of competition because, as the article points out, we restrict both choice and competition. Rather than switch to another system where someone else chooses what health care you get, lets let everyone choose for themselves. Abolish getting healthcare through employers, abolish different pricing for different “pools” of people, and open up the system to national competition. Unfortunately, I hear almost nobody on either side pushing for such an approach.

  24. Alston Says:

    You really nailed it when you said:

    More importantly, even though many have argued that reconciliation will be misused on a health care bill…those are the same people who will tout the filibuster as necessary and just. Well, sorry, you can’t have it both ways.

    I’m deeply afraid that since so few people understand the complexities of health care, the wrong decisions will be reached.

    Many people think that the insurance companies are the problem because they make so much money. This has made it easy for the pols to demonize them.

    The problem with this belief is that nobody goes to the trouble of putting the profits into perspective. If an insurance company makes a gazillion dollars a year, but if you divide that gazillion by the number of policyholders and then divide again by 12, you may find that the profit is $8 per month per policy.

    Removing the profit isn’t going to solve the problem if that profit is only a few dollars per policy per month.

    I’m not sure how to solve the problem but I know that there are a lot of lies, misconceptions and exaggerations floating about this debate.

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