Brooks on reconciliation

BROOKS ON RECONCILIATION…. I read David Brooks’s column on Congress’ reconciliation rule a couple of times, assuming I was missing something on the first go-around. But it seems the NYT columnist really did write an 800-word piece insisting that Democrats should allow Republicans to deny votes on practically everything — because reconciliation isn’t very nice.

In the United States, leaders in the House of Representatives have done an effective job in getting their members to think in group, not person-to-person, terms. Members usually vote as party blocs. Individuals have very little power. That’s why representatives are often subtle and smart as individuals, but crude and partisan as a collective. The social psychology of the House is a clan psychology, not an interpersonal psychology.

The Senate, on the other hand, has historically been home to more person-to-person thinking. This is because the Senate is smaller and because of Senate rules. Until recently, the Senate leaders couldn’t just ram things through on party-line votes. Because a simple majority did not rule, and because one senator had the ability to bring the whole body to a halt, senators had an incentive, every day, to develop alliances and relationships with people in the other party.

It’s worth noting that the Senate passing legislation on party-line votes has long been common in periods of intense partisanship. Remember the Radical Republicans’ era of the 19th century? Indeed, for the better part of two centuries, the majority approving bills over the concerns of the opposition party wasn’t known as “ramming things through”; it was generally called “the American legislative process.” It’d be more common now if moderate Republicans existed, were willing to work with Democrats; and didn’t engage in scandalous obstructionism.

The Senate is now in the process of using reconciliation — rule by simple majority — to try to pass health care.

Actually, no. The Senate already passed its health care reform bill, and it was approved (after defeating a Republican filibuster) with a 60-vote supermajority. Reconciliation would be used for a budget fix, which, as Brooks may have heard, is why reconciliation exists, GOP hurt feelings notwithstanding.

Reconciliation has been used with increasing frequency. That was bad enough. But at least for the Bush tax cuts or the prescription drug bill, there was significant bipartisan support. Now we have pure reconciliation mixed with pure partisanship.

Actually, that’s not true, either. Reconciliation has routinely been used on bills with stark partisan divisions. Bush’s 2003 tax cuts were approved after Dick Cheney broke a 50-50 tie. If Brooks considers that “significant bipartisan support,” he’s using a definition of the phrase that I’m not familiar with.

Once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity.

And that’s based on … what exactly? Dems aren’t rewriting the rules ; they’re just using them. Besides, using majority-rule for all legislation in both chambers is hardly a dystopian nightmare — Congress used to operate this way, and important legislation used to be able to pass. The “inhumanity” of a dysfunctional Senate that isn’t allowed to vote on legislation anymore seems far more serious.

With increasing effectiveness, the system bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy.

Got that, Dems? If you used reconciliation the way it was intended to be used, you’re all big meanies. ‘Tis better to be polite and allow Republicans to prevent an elected majority from voting on its own agenda, allowing national crises to continue to deteriorate.