Pushing back against reconciliation

PUSHING BACK AGAINST RECONCILIATION…. It’s always fascinating to watch center-right Democrats take a firm stand in support of Republican obstructionism.

A bipartisan group of House members is demanding that special budget rules allowing Democrats to pass healthcare legislation by a simple-majority vote be taken off the table.

Democratic leaders have signaled they are open to using reconciliation to force President Obama’s signature domestic issue through the Senate along party lines if need be.

The House group says that is not acceptable.

“Reconciliation is not an option for health care reform,” read a news release sent out Thursday morning by Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition. “By rule, any bill that passes under reconciliation cannot make the changes needed to reform the American health care system,” the release read. “Working together is the only option.”

This, oddly enough, positions the Blue Dog Democrats to the right of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who said Senate Dems can certainly pass health care reform through the reconciliation process. He told radio host Bill Bennett on Tuesday, “[Reconciliation is] legal, it’s ethical, you can do it. And it has been suggested and accepted by the administration, pretty directly that if it came down to it, they’re going to drive this thing through a 50-vote door. And if they do that…they can pass whatever they want to.”

But Blue Dogs and House Republicans disagree. The majority party can pass reform, they say, but it’s paramount to protect the right of Republicans to demand supermajorities and block the legislation, even if it enjoys the support of a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, a majority of the public, and the president.

Matt Yglesias, on an unrelated point, noted this morning: “I continue to be a little bit astonished by how little attention the political establishment is giving to the implications of the routinization of a 60-vote supermajority requirement for all Senate business. This is a very new ‘tradition’ in American governance, it goes against everyone’s common understanding of how democratic procedures are supposed to work, and there’s very little reason to believe that the results will be beneficial in the long run.”

Quite right. The American system of government has was never supposed to work this way, and wasn’t designed to force 60-vote minimums on everything of significance. At some point fairly recently, without a word of debate or discussion, the political world simply accepted as fact the idea that a small and shrinking Senate minority can require supermajorities for every piece of legislation. It quickly became something everyone simply “knows,” despite the fact that this is a fairly radical departure from historic legislative procedure.

And now, Blue Dogs and House Republicans are adamant that Senate Democrats take the one procedure that can guarantee an up-or-down vote on health care reform off the table. Incredible.