Friday, March 5, 2010

Reconciliation Follies

Marshall: A Friggin' Crock
Let's stop dancing around it. On "reconciliation" the Republicans are being such a gang of hypocritical liars it's shocking even for them. It really is. The Health Care Bill isn't being passed through reconciliation; it's being used to pass a few amendments to the bill that's already passed. The Republicans have used it numerous times and themselves and for bill's that were far bigger in budgetary terms than this bill. The whole thing is just an immense crock. And it's borderline scandalous that any of their nonsense is even being taken serious. E.J. Dionne has a great column explaining the whole thing. Do read it.

Robert C. Byrd: Reconciliation can be used to find savings

Letters to the Editor

Thursday March 4, 2010

It has been said that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In the Daily Mail's March 2 editorial regarding health care reform legislation, "Using reconciliation would hurt Democrats: Choking off debate is no way to muscle through health legislation," the newspaper's misunderstanding of congressional procedures misinforms readers who, in rapidly increasing numbers, find themselves unable to obtain or afford medical insurance.

The editorial correctly quoted me as saying in the spring of 2009 that using reconciliation to enact a huge health care package would "violate the intent and spirit of the budget process . . .".

I believed then, as now, that the Senate should debate the health reform bill under regular rules, which it did. The result of that debate was the passing of a comprehensive health care reform bill in the Senate by a 60-vote supermajority.

I continue to support the budget reconciliation process for deficit reduction. The entire Senate- or House- passed health care bill could not and would not pass muster under the current reconciliation rules, which were established under my watch.

Yet a bill structured to reduce deficits by, for example, finding savings in Medicare or lowering health care costs, may be consistent with the Budget Act, and appropriately considered under reconciliation.

With all due respect, the Daily Mail's hyperbole about "imposing government control," acts of "disrespect to the American people" and "corruption" of Senate procedures resembles more the barkings from the nether regions of Glennbeckistan than the "sober and second thought" of one of West Virginia's oldest and most respected daily newspapers.

My commitment to protecting the best interests of all West Virginians and the American people remains as firm and consistent as my devotion to observing the necessary and essential Senate rules and procedures intended to guarantee debate and the airing of diverse views.

Robert C. Byrd

Washington, D.C.

Byrd is the senior U.S senator from West Virginia.

DougJ: I just wasn’t made for these times

Sometimes the silliness of our public dialog scares me more than it amuses me.

Steve Benen on reconciliation:

Scholars of propaganda could write an impressive paper on the Republican campaign on reconciliation in recent months. Partisan hacks have managed to convince an entire political world and a media establishment that use of a fairly routine Senate procedure is not only problematic, but genuinely scandalous. They’ve even convinced some Democrats to feel squeamish about a process Republicans have used repeatedly with no qualms at all.


I’m really not sure how we got from we don’t torture, to that torture stuff we do isn’t torture, to anyone who opposes torture hates America. Apparently that’s where we are.

I sort of understand how these things came to be, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s all very strange. I know Tom Friedman thinks all our problems can be cured with a new tax credit for R&D and that the Village thinks a big bipartisan commission could clear all this up. But I think the problems here run deep.

E.J. Dionne (WaPost): The Republicans' big lie about reconciliation

For those who feared that Barack Obama did not have any Lyndon Johnson in him, the president's determination to press ahead and get health-care reform done in the face of Republican intransigence came as something of a relief.

Obama's critics have regularly accused him of not being as tough or wily or forceful as LBJ was in pushing through civil rights and the social programs of his Great Society. Obama seemed willing to let Congress go its own way and was so anxious to look bipartisan that he wouldn't even take his own side in arguments with Republicans.

Those days are over. On Wednesday, the president made clear what he wants in a health-care bill, and he urged Congress to pass it by the most expeditious means available.

He was also clear on what bipartisanship should mean -- and what it can't mean. Democrats, who happen to be in the majority, have already added Republican ideas to their proposals. Obama said he was open to four more that came up during the health-care summit. What he's (rightly) unwilling to do is give the minority veto power over a bill that has deliberately and painfully worked its way through the regular legislative process.

Republicans, however, don't want to talk much about the substance of health care. They want to discuss process, turn "reconciliation" into a four-letter word and maintain that Democrats are "ramming through" a health bill.

It is all, I am sorry to say, one big lie -- or, if you're sensitive, an astonishing exercise in hypocrisy.

In an op-ed in Tuesday's Post, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) offered an excellent example of this hypocrisy. Right off, the piece was wrong on a core fact. Hatch accused the Democrats of trying to, yes, "ram through the Senate a multitrillion-dollar health-care bill."

No. The health-care bill passed the Senate in December with 60 votes under the normal process. The only thing that would pass under a simple majority vote would be a series of amendments that fit comfortably under the "reconciliation" rules established to deal with money issues. Near the end of his column, Hatch conceded that reconciliation would be used for "only parts" of the bill. But why didn't he say that in the first place?

Hatch grandly cited "America's Founders" as wanting the Senate to be about "deliberation." But the Founders said nothing in the Constitution about the filibuster, let alone "reconciliation." Judging from what they put in the actual document, the Founders would be appalled at the idea that every major bill should need the votes of three-fifths of the Senate to pass.

Hatch quoted Sens. Robert Byrd and Kent Conrad, both Democrats, as opposing the use of reconciliation on health care. What he didn't say is that Byrd's comment from a year ago was about passing the entire bill under reconciliation, which no one is proposing. As for Conrad, he made clear to The Post's Ezra Klein this week that it's perfectly appropriate to use reconciliation "to improve or perfect the package," which is the only thing that Democrats have proposed doing through reconciliation.

Hatch said that reconciliation should not be used for "substantive legislation" unless the legislation has "significant bipartisan support." But surely the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, which were passed under reconciliation and increased the deficit by $1.7 trillion during his presidency, were "substantive legislation." The 2003 dividends tax cut could muster only 50 votes. Vice President Dick Cheney had to break the tie. Talk about "ramming through."

The underlying "principle" here seems to be that it's fine to pass tax cuts for the wealthy on narrow votes but an outrage to use reconciliation to help middle-income and poor people get health insurance.

I'm disappointed in Hatch, co-sponsor of two of my favorite bills in recent years. One created the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The other, signed last year by Obama, broadly expanded service opportunities. Hatch worked on both with his dear friend, the late Edward M. Kennedy, after whom the service bill was named.

It was Kennedy, you'll recall, who insisted that health care was "a fundamental right and not a privilege." That's why it's not just legitimate to use reconciliation to complete the work on health reform. It would be immoral to do otherwise and thereby let a phony argument about process get in the way of health coverage for 30 million Americans.

Bernstein (Daily Dish): Scandal! Or, Whatever

Here's a challenge for the press: which fringe political nonsense is going to be the next White House travel office scandal (lasts for months if not years before fizzling out) and which is going to be the next Kevin Jennings (bubbles up from the crazy, but fizzles before anyone beyond a narrow group hears about it)? Take today's kerfuffle, explained ably by Kevin Drum. Will it still be around after Easter? Who knows?

Mostly, however, I agree with Steve Benin, who says:

If Republicans had the congressional majority right now, Congress would literally launch a federal investigation into something like this. Come 2011, it's likely any nonsense published by the Weekly Standard (or related outlets) in the morning, will produce subpoenas by the afternoon. This was the model from 1995 to 2000, and it would be just as ridiculous next year.

Which brings me to the real reason for this post, which is to encourage everyone to predict the first Member of the House to file for impeachment against Barack Obama, and the date that he or she will do so. I'm afraid that Bachmann, Brown-Waite, Joe Wilson, and Ron Paul are already taken, but that leaves plenty of others to choose from -- including the possibility that none of them will do it.

Tim F.: Doing What They Do Best

Republicans have a huge robocall effort today to sic their teabaggers on key Dem Congressmen. That sucks, but it illustrates a point that I cannot stress enough: these calls make a difference.

Do you know your Representative’s staffers on a first-name basis? Maybe you should. They appreciate hearing a friendly voice once in a while.

Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

Guide for first-timers here.


It will help to point out to your Rep that 95% of these angry callers wouldn’t vote for a Democrat if Jesus Christ showed up at their door and told them to.

John Cole: Sick of This man

The most tedious man on the planet speaks:

The Senate’s healthcare bill would lose 12 Democratic votes in the House, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Wednesday.

Stupak, the sponsor of an amendment to the House healthcare bill that barred federal subsidies for health plans covering abortion, said that 12 lawmakers who had previously supported healthcare reform legislation in the House would be ready to switch.

“It’s accurate to say there are at least 12 of us who voted for healthcare that have indicated to the speaker and others that unless you change this language, we will vote against it,” Stupak said during an appearance on MSNBC.

Name them, Bart. Until then, STFU.

Kind of crazy that an atheist can’t chair a committee but a panty-sniffing religious moralist can attempt to sink the signature legislation of the party and no one blinks.

*** Update ***

Bart’s number: 202-225-4735

Suggested Script: “Hi, my name is XXXXX and I am from XXXXX, and while not normally a constituent, Rep. Stupak insists on making me with his repeated attempts to kill HCR because of his fetus fetish. Please be assured I intend to donate the maximum amount to any opponent of Bart’s, Republican or Democrat, if he manages to torpedo HCR, andwill worked to have him stripped of any and all committee assignments and removed from the Democratic caucus. And this includes if he should have any delusional gubernatorial aspirations.”

Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.) represents a district that's historically been unfriendly to Democrats. It was, for example, Kratovil who was hung in effigy by right-wing activists last summer, outside his district office.

It wasn't especially surprising, then, when Kratovil, one of Congress's least progressive and most vulnerable Democrats, voted against health care reform last November. Earlier this week, however, his office suggested that Kratovil is open to considering the more moderate Senate bill.

Now he's making clear that he does not intend to change his mind. It's his reasoning, though, that seemed odd.

"He would vote against it," the spokesman, Kevin Lawlor, says. Crucially, Kratovil would vote against the Senate bill even if there's some kind of verbal guarantee that it would be fixed via reconciliation later, Lawlor says.

The only way Kratovil -- one of the targets of a barrage of NRCC robocalls hammering the reform proposals as "dangerous" -- could support the Senate bill is if it's fixed first via reconciliation, before the House votes on it. But no one expects this to happen.

Here's hoping that Kratovil's reasoning goes far beyond this, because if he's willing to see health care reform die over this procedural issue, he's both foolish and callous.

I'm trying to imagine how a lawmaker goes back to his district and says, "Sorry, struggling families and businesses getting screwed by the dysfunctional health care system. I was considering supporting a solution to this mess, but I couldn't -- I wanted one chamber to go first, not the other. So, you're screwed. Good luck."

Maybe now would be a good time to remind some lawmakers that the issue here goes beyond institutional rivalries, polls, attack ads, hurt feelings, and parochial piques. Real people are struggling. There are families that can't get coverage because of a pre-existing condition, and they need a champion. There are small businesses that can't afford coverage for their employees, and they need a champion. There are entrepreneurs who want to start a business but can't because the premiums are unaffordable, families facing bankruptcy because their insurers dropped them when they needed help most, industrious workers whose wages have been stuck while health care costs rise, single moms waiting tables who can't afford to buy coverage on the individual market -- they all need a champion.

And instead of rising to the occasion, some in Congress are worried about legislative procedures? Indeed, they're more worried about these procedures than they are in helping struggling families?

I understand campaign anxieties. I don't understand this.

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