On Reconciliation, Both Parties Agree: The Other Side Is Right!


Now that the bipartisan health care squawkathon is, praise the gods of C-SPAN, finally over, Democratic legislators can finally get down to the important business of ignoring the polls and radically overhauling the entire U.S. health care system via party-line vote. To do so, they'll have to use a budgetary process known as reconciliation, which allows Democrats, who no longer control a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, to circumvent a Republican filibuster with a simple 51-vote majority.

Republicans, naturally, are grumbling that using reconciliation would circumvent the rights of the minority party. To make the case against reconciliation, I'll turn it over to, um…a collection of 2005 statements about reconciliation by (among others) Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?

Ah, yeah. So, it turns out that, when it comes to legislative procedure, views about what's acceptable and what isn't tend to shift in ways that conveniently line up with a party's current political and legislative agenda. Where does that leave us? Well, on the question of whether it's some kind of moral outrage or perfectly acceptable way to govern, I think Jay Cost nails it:

When it comes to legislative procedure, I am a strict Hobbesian. There is what a Senate majority can do, and what it can't do. "Appropriate" or "inappropriate" are not applicable phrases. Congress is sovereign over its own procedures, which are the product of self-interested members working to secure reelection and/or policy goals. Morality doesn't enter into it. (See the note at the bottom of this post for another thought on this topic.)

I'll go a step further to suggest that people with strong policy preferences should rarely be listened to in a debate about appropriate procedure. People who care intensely about the final vote tally often don't care how the votes are counted, so long as they get their preferred outcome. This is why there was no hue and cry coming from most of these born-again majoritarians on the left when the Democrats were looking to filibuster judicial nominees in 2005. It is easy to find numerous examples of conservative hypocrisy on this subject, too.

The crucial question, though, is how the public will react, and on that, it's tough to say for sure. There's no polling data that I'm aware of to support one position or another, but my instinct is that it won't poll well; anything that smacks of procedural trickery, whether it's a long-standing part of the playbook or not, tends to be greeted with a big public frowny face. Both parties have their data points and their narratives—ex-parliamentarians are skeptical! but reconciliation has been used 19 times since 1981, mostly by Republicans!—but what will likely matter most in the end is whether it's seen as politically appealing by elected officials whose jobs are on the line. Of course, it's entirely possible that it doesn't matter either way; reconciliation won't be an issue at all if the House can't first gin up the votes to pass the Senate bill—and everyone agrees that, at least right now, those votes don't exist.

Update: A Gallup poll released yesterday that I hadn't noticed confirms my intuition: There's significant public opposition to the use of reconciliation: "By a larger 52% to 39% margin, Americans also oppose the Democrats in the Senate using a reconciliation procedure to avoid a possible Republican filibuster and pass a bill by a simple majority vote." (Thanks to Philip Klein for the pointer.)

NEXT: South Dakota Legislature Votes "Balanced Teaching " of Global Warming

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  1. Well both sides are obviously hypocritical. However, the stuff the Dems are trying to ram through via reconciliation is way more significant and has far more long-term implications than confirming a District Court nominee would have.

  2. Yes Suderman reconciliation has been used 19 times. That is true. But it has been used on tax and spending bills. That is what the thing was designed for; to make it easier to control the budget deficit. It was never intended to be used on bills of substantive law.

    So what that it has been used 19 times? Was any one of those times involving an issue anything like health care?

    That has to be the lamest argument you have ever put up. Just because it has “been used” doesn’t make every other possible use okay or analogous.

    1. >It was never intended to be used on bills of substantive law

      The health care bill as a whole has already been passed by the Senate. With 60 votes.

      All the reconciliation rule would be used for is to pass a limited set of fixes, which are all related to budgetary questions.

  3. “That has to be the lamest argument you have ever put up”

    [citation needed]

  4. “”That is true. But it has been used on tax and spending bills.””

    Are you certain about that?

    1. Most of them. Both tax increases and cuts.

      Welfare reform would be the biggest arguable exception.

  5. The whole reconciliation foofaraw misses the point.

    Plan A is to have the House adopt the Senate bill as is, and then separately pass amendments that will go back to the Senate to be “reconciled”.

    Of course, the Senate bill is a bill for raising revenue, and is thus unconstitutional since it didn’t originate in the House.

    The whole thing is a blatant, in your face, FUCK YOU to the Constitution. Reconciliation is peanuts, a quibbling over Senate rules, compared to the blatant unconstitutionality of the Senate bill.

    1. I already explained this in another thread, not sure if you saw or if you just (understandably) don’t like it.

      The Senate bill is an amendment (in substitution, replaces the entire bill) of an unrelated House revenue bill. Technically, the Senate bill started in and was passed by the House, just with completely different text.

      Yes, it’s an end-around, but it’s another case of “quibbling over rules.”

  6. Come on Supreme Court!

  7. I’m against reconciliation for the simple reason that, without it, it’s harder for both sides to pass laws. I support anything that moves us away from simple majoritocracy.

  8. It’s a bluff.

    They don’t have the votes in the House to pass it, and they’re not going to get them even with the promise that somehow the bill will be “fixed” in committee.

  9. Hey, donkeys, ol’ buddies, ol’ pals! Here’s a free length of rope you can tie around your neck with plenty to spare so you can tie the other end over that rafter beam up there. Go on, knock yourselves out!

  10. Wow these creatures just don’t get it. All they had to do was nothing at all and they’d keep their jobs.

  11. I’m not voting for any Legislooter this year that doesn’t have the word “repeal” in his/her platform regarding Obamacare. period.

  12. Regarding the GOP being right on reconcillation. There wrong. The GOP under George W. Bush use reconcillation 21 times for everything from the Budget, tax breaks for the rich to the Funding the Iraq war which was keeped a secret for most of President Bush’s two terms. So if the GOP wants to be the party of NO and since the GOP has over 160 Amendments to the healh care reform bill already and are still going to vote no then the democrats should use reconcillation to fix the health care reform already passed by both house and senate on Christmas Eve.

    1. Uh, no they shouldn’t pass the health care bill.

    2. The GOP under George W. Bush use reconcillation 21 times for everything from the Budget, tax breaks for the rich to the Funding the Iraq war which was keeped a secret for most of President Bush’s two terms.

      Wow, it’s like you’ve heard the talking points and manage to get all the details wrong.

      Reconciliation has been used about twenty times since 1981, not “under George W. Bush.”

      Then you go on and list all examples of budget funding, which is what reconciliation was introduced for in the first place.

      Then you claim that funding for the Iraq War was kept a secret, which is untrue. The dollar amount was known, it was just passed in supplemental budgets.

      The GOP amendments to the health care bill are almost all technical amendments (which both parties do) fixing things like bad spelling and grammar.

      The bills passed by the House and the Senate are very different from each other.

      Your display of ignorance and misunderstanding of things you’ve vaguely heard of is impressive.

    3. Regarding the GOP‘s members being right on reconcillation. reconciliation, There they’re wrong. The GOP under George W. Bush used reconcillation reconciliation 21 times for everything from the Budget, budget and tax breaks for the rich to the Funding funding the the Iraq front in the war on Islamofascist terrorists which was keeped kept a secret for most of President Bush 43‘s two terms. So if If the GOP wants to be the party of NO,” and since the GOP has over 160 Amendments to the health care reform bill already and are is still going to vote no, then the democrats Democrats should use reconcillation reconciliation to fix the health care reform already passed by both house House and senate Senate on Christmas Eve.

      Aside from the multiple factual inaccuracies and outright lies in your little catchphrase-laden far-left-talking-points rant others have already exposed, your atrocious spelling and grammar would be difficult to excuse even if you were a foreigner–which you clearly are not, and they are therefore utterly inexcusable coming from you.

      Behold, one and all, the writing style of a typical empty-headed young leftist: one the more pungent results of our domestic Leftaliban’s beloved government-funded-and-operated education!

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