Lamar on reconciliation

LAMAR ON RECONCILIATION…. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee was on Fox News yesterday, and weighed in on the possibility of Democrats using reconciliation to pass health care reform.

“Thumbing their nose at the American people by ramming through a partisan bill would be the same thing as going to war without asking Congress’ permission,” he said. “You might technically be able to do it, but you’d pay a terrible price in the next election.”

There was no follow-up on this during the interview — it’s Fox News, after all — so let’s go ahead and note why this is very foolish.

First, if a key piece of legislation receives support from a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, and the president, it’s not “ramming through” anything. It’s a little something political scientists (and “Schoolhouse Rock”) like to call “how a bill becomes a law.” These policymakers ran on a health care reform platform, and won big on Election Day. Lamar Alexander would have us believe that voters not only want the majority to ignore their electoral pledges and mandate, but also care deeply about the procedural minutiae of the Senate.

Second, Alexander had a very different approach to reconciliation when he was in the majority — he supported “ramming through” several GOP-backed bills that lacked 60 votes, including both of Bush’s tax breaks for the wealthy.

And third, to suggest that passing bills that “only” enjoy a Senate majority is similar to waging war with congressional approval is ridiculous.

The larger goal, of course, is to characterize reconciliation as an outrageous abuse (except when Republicans do it, in which case it’s fine). Glenn Thrush noted yesterday, “[I]f the Democrats allow the GOP [to] define reconciliation as evil, they’re in for a Permanent August.”

How Dems handle the message war matters a lot, obviously, but also watch to see how the media “allows the GOP to define reconciliation as evil.” Even the laziest, most partisan political reporters in the country should realize that a) Republicans used reconciliation to get what they wanted when they were in the majority, including firing the Senate parliamentarian after an unfavorable ruling; and b) Republicans are already on record saying publicly that Democrats can pass health care reform through reconciliation if they choose to do so.

These propaganda efforts don’t happen in a vacuum. Republicans are laying the groundwork for yet another deceptive argument. Dems need to be prepared for it, and set the record straight. But political reporters who routinely get spun like tops may want to take a moment to notice what’s going on here.