Moving forward on reconciliation

MOVING FORWARD ON RECONCILIATION…. The New York Times reports today that the Democratic leaders “are tempted to use their political muscle to speed passage of health care legislation with minimal concessions to the Republican minority.” The majority party would reportedly “resort to an obscure procedure known as reconciliation to clear the way for Senate passage of a comprehensive health bill with a 51-vote majority, rather than the 60 votes that would otherwise be needed.”

It’s worth noting that this is framed the wrong way. Reconciliation is not “obscure”; it’s a procedure used many times in recent years, usually by Republicans. Reconciliation was used to pass welfare reform; it was used to pass Bush’s tax cut plans; and more recently, GOP lawmakers even wanted to use reconciliation to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

For the Democratic majority to pursue health care reform through reconciliation is entirely reasonable, and justified given a) recent history; b) the importance of the legislation; and c) Republican obstructionism.

On the other hand, the Republican minority is prepared to throw the tantrum to end all tantrums. Sen. Mike Enzi (R) of Wyoming said using reconciliation to pass health care reform would be tantamount to “a declaration of war.” Roll Call reports today that the GOP is already planning its retaliation for Dems using a procedure Republicans have used many times.

As Senate Democrats move closer to using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year, key GOP Senators are signaling plans to avenge the move by employing parliamentary tactics to trip up even the most noncontroversial of agenda items.

Although Senate Democrats are far from reaching a consensus on the reconciliation issue, party leaders confirmed Wednesday that they are reserving the right to use it to pass health care reform if Republicans fail to negotiate in good faith. Senate Republicans — saying they have every intention of being a full partner in the upcoming health care negotiations — said holding reconciliation in reserve could poison the discussions, and threatened retribution.

“If they go down that road, I think the fur is going to fly,” Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said. “I suspect that there is going to be an awful lot of resistance, and we will exercise our prerogatives so that the rules of the Senate are respected.”

In other words, if Democrats try to pass legislation the same way Republicans tried to pass legislation when the GOP was in the majority, Republicans will effectively shut down the entire lawmaking process, indefinitely. The very idea of allowing the chamber to vote, up or down, on a key bill is so completely outrageous, congressional comity would be destroyed.

As if Republicans have been cooperative and productive up until now.

Of course, the GOP has options short of partisan war. They could work with the majority to pass meaningful legislation. If that seems laughable, then you can understand why the reconciliation process seems like a reasonable alternative.

For what it’s worth, I’d just remind Senate Republicans that, as recently as a month ago, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) conceded that “Republicans have in the past engaged in using reconciliation to further the party’s agenda,” and aren’t in a position to complain if Democrats choose to do the same.

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