Friday, March 05, 2010

Reconciliation and Health Care

Last December, I think it was, the Senate passed a Health Reform bill, one that followed in the wake of one passed by the House.  All that was needed was a way to bring the two bills together.  Because of the GOP use of the filibuster, that has proven impossible -- they simply won't allow a vote to be taken.  I read recently that about 80% of bills have been filibustered since the beginning of the Obama presidency.  What was once a rare occurrence, has now become par for the course. 

The Republicans continue to insist that the Democrats are trying to ram through the reform package -- but aren't they obstructing the majority from enacting key legislation.  They act as if they are the majority, but they're not.  Thus, the only way around the obstructionism, is to have the House pass the Senate Bill, and then amend the flawed Senate Bill through reconciliation -- a process that is usually used for budget and tax bills.  But, there is sufficient precedent for using it in these kinds of events as well. 

E.J. Dionne has helpfully called attention to the hypocrisy, if not out right dishonesty of the GOP efforts.  Responding to a disingenuous Orrin Hatch op-ed, Dionne writes:

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.

You can add to this, the hypocrisy of John McCain, who wants to shield Medicare from cuts using Reconciliation -- even though he's voted several times using reconciliation to cut medicare benefits. As Ezra Klein notes:
Last night, John McCain introduced an amendment that makes Medicare immune to the reconciliation process. That's all fine, except for McCain's record: Of the nine reconciliation bills McCain has voted to pass during his time in office, four of them included substantial cuts to Medicare. For those keeping score at home, they were the Balanced Budget Act of 1995, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, and the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The Balanced Budget Act of 1995, in particular, included many more cuts to Medicare than anything on the table today. Now he's saying that "entitlements should not be part of a reconciliation process." They're "too important."

So much for John the Maverick.

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