Lamar and ‘the end of the United States Senate’

LAMAR AND ‘THE END OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE’…. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) appearance on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday was quite a dishonest display. One argument, in particular, was hard to overlook. (TP has video.)

“The reconciliation procedure is a little-used legislative procedure — 19 times it’s been used. It’s for the purpose of taxing and spending and reducing deficits.

“But the difference here is that there’s never been anything of this size and magnitude and complexity run through the Senate in this way. There are a lot of technical problems with it, which we could discuss. It would turn the Senate — it would really be the end of the United States Senate as a protector of minority rights, as a place where you have to get consensus, instead of just a partisan majority, and it would be a political kamikaze mission for the Democratic Party if they jam this through….”

The very next thing host Elizabeth Vargas asked was, “Why political kamikaze, though?”

In other words, there was no effort at all to push back against the dishonest claims or set the record straight for viewers. What was interesting, apparently, was Lamar Alexander reflecting on the electoral consequences of the legislation, rather than the substantive. The senator’s policy lies were overlooked, while the senator’s campaign predictions drew scrutiny.

With that in mind, let’s do what the show didn’t. First, for Alexander to dismiss reconciliation as a “little-used legislative procedure” is pretty disingenuous. Reconciliation has been used, legitimately, to pass everything from welfare reform to COBRA, Bush’s tax-cut packages to student-aid reform, nursing home standards to the earned income tax credit. Not too long ago, Senate Republicans even considered using reconciliation to approve drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a little too late to characterize the same procedural measure as some kind of outrage, after Republicans relied on it extensively.

Second, to insist that reconciliation’s purpose is to “reduce deficits” is simply wrong. As Paul Krugman noted, “[R]econciliation was used to pass the two major Bush tax cuts, which increased the deficit — by $1.8 trillion.”

Third, even if we concede that health care reform is bigger in “size and magnitude” than the other bills approved through reconciliation, the plan isn’t to pass health care reform through reconciliation.

Fourth, to suggest passing a budget fix by majority rule “would really be the end of the United States Senate as a protector of minority rights” is comically ridiculous.

It was a rather depressing display all around. But here’s the kicker: there will be no consequences. Lamar Alexander, who may actually know better, made a variety of demonstrably false claims on national television. Not only was he not called on it, Alexander will almost certainly be invited back, rewarded for his dishonesty with more opportunities to mislead the public.

The estimable Jay Rosen recently explained that “the Sunday morning talk shows are broken.” His modest proposal for more fact-checking looks better and better all the time.