The inexorably flawed premise

THE INEXORABLY FLAWED PREMISE…. A rather conventional report in the New York Times, which ignores the most relevant detail:

White House officials and their allies in liberal advocacy groups are making an all-out push to persuade Congress and the public that budget reconciliation is a legitimate procedure used often in the last 30 years to pass major legislation, including President Ronald Reagan’s domestic agenda in 1981, an overhaul of welfare programs in 1996 and President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, said he knew those precedents. But, he said, they amount to “peanuts compared with this total restructuring of one-sixth of the economy.”

The whole discussion seems badly off-track. Democrats and other proponents of health care reform have invested so much energy in questioning the merit of the GOP argument — pointing to all the other times reconciliation has been used, for example — that they forget to question the premise.

Whether Grassley and his cohorts realize it or not, let’s emphasize what the NYT did not mention: reconciliation would not be used to pass health care reform in the Senate. The Senate has already approved health care reform, with 60 votes, through an entirely conventional process. The next time the Senate votes on a reform-related measure, it’s very likely to a small budget fix — not the huge legislative package — after reform is already finished.

The Democratic arguments in response to Republican complaints are plentiful and accurate, but ultimately irrelevant. The GOP is arguing that it would be outrageous to pass health care reform through reconciliation, but no one is recommending passing health care reform through reconciliation. The other talking points don’t much matter when the premise of the Republican argument is proven to be inexorably flawed.

Reader Ron Byers noted that MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and Chris Matthews, to their credit, emphasized this point on “Hardball” on Thursday, and I tracked down the video. It’s a clip the DNC, the White House, and congressional Dems would be wise to keep in mind.

E.J. Dionne called Todd’s observation “superb,” adding, “I do not expect what I will call the Todd Clarification to stop Republicans from condemning the Democrats if they get a bill through with the reconciliation amendments. But shouldn’t all of us be referring to them just that way — as ‘amendments’ rather than as ‘a bill’? … Kudos to Todd for stating a truth that just about all of us have missed.”

The next time you hear a Republican (or a reporter) argue that it would be wrong to pass health care reform through reconciliation, remember one critically important detail that’s gone overlooked for weeks: the argument doesn’t make sense.