Saturday, March 6, 2010

Putting the Con in Reconciliation

With Obama’s latest audacious push on healthcare, it looks increasingly likely that the Senate will turn to the parliamentary tool of reconciliation. The procedure, which is narrowly targeted at budgetary issues, provides for a method to avoid the Senate filibuster. Reconciliation has been used in the past, but in all cases for narrow budget-related issues. Democrats Senate leaders’ intention seems to be to ram through as much of an unpopular health care bill as procedure will allow.

Democrats argue that reconciliation needs to be used to overcome the obstinacy of the Republicans. They accuse the Republicans of hindering “real progress” in the name of politics, which was aided by Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts. However, this is nothing but a straw man. Republicans are only able to use the filibuster and prevent a final vote because their constituents do not support the healthcare bill. The fact of the matter is that it would be political suicide for the Republicans, or any party for that matter, to obstruct legislation simply to ‘stick-it’ to the majority party.

The filibuster is a tool that was designed to limit the power of the majority party in the Senate. In some ways this is inherently undemocratic (and more republican) in terms of institutional structure. However, in other ways it is precisely democratic. As is being shown today, the people’s representatives do not always vote in line with their constituencies’ wishes. Rasmussen’s most recent poll shows that 52% of voters oppose the current package. When ideology steps in the way of responsibility to the voters, the filibuster can serve as a useful check on anti-democratic tendencies.

This clearly explains Republican behavior; namely that they understand the people do not want Obama’s healthcare package. In Republican hands, the filibuster has become a democratic tool waged against the Obama-Reid-Pelosi triumvirate of leftist policies. Republicans would not take such a political risk if they did not believe that the people supported such behavior. As Obama recently pointed out, the voters will decide in November whether these actions are supported.

Additionally, the Republican ‘obstruction’ is a direct result of ideological differences. There is a deep divide between the socialist, European model of the Democrats and the capitalist approach of the Republicans. The Republicans did an outstanding job portraying this at the theatrical Healthcare Summit. Americans are also beginning to realize that there are other options to reform to the Democratic orthodoxy.

Because of these two factors, Republicans have been able to halt the passage of a radical bill that, given the political landscape a year ago, should have been an easy win for the Democrats. The Democrats’ failure was only facilitated by their inability to not hammer out a proposal amongst their supermajority before America realized the ideological flaws on the Left.

However, rather than recognizing this, Team-O is pushing forward at full steam. Their desire to use reconciliation shows not only desperation but a complete disdain for America. It would also be an unprecedented abuse of power as The Wall Street Journal recently opined on. Reconciliation has historically been used on narrow terms and with cross-aisle support.
Democrats often point to welfare reform in 1996 as a reconciliation precedent, yet that bill passed the Senate with 78 votes, including Joe Biden and half of the Democratic caucus. The children's health insurance program in 1997 was steered through Congress with reconciliation, but it, too, was built on strong (if misguided) bipartisan support. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that created Schip passed 85-15, including 43 Republicans. Even President Bush's 2001 tax cuts, another case in reconciliation point, were endorsed by 12 Senate Democrats.
The terrifying arrogance of the Left’s leadership is politically unwise. The Democrats will undoubtedly discover this at the polls in November. However, it is also potentially damaging to America. A passage of this bill will have disastrous effects on the healthcare industry, while solving few of the outstanding problems. Even worse, it will encourage further abuse of the parliamentary system for partisan ideological gain.


  1. Josh--

    When Republicans dismissed the Senate Parlimentarian in advance of their reconciled tax cuts in 2001, was that an example of "terrifying arrogance"?

    As for "radical," conservative David Frum has written that the current bill, fundamentally, is similar to the compromise promoted by Bob Dole in 1993. Was his proposal a premeditated destruction of the American health-care system too?

    Also, Scott Rasmussen should not be cited as a bellwhether for the American political opinion; he worked for the Bush re-election campaign in 2004, and his polls are consistently different than the mean when compiled by Real Clear Politics and other polling aggregators.

    But on that subject, the polling comes down to a matter of semantics; piece by piece, Americans support the legislation(

    Beyond that, of course, we live in a republic, not a democracy, for obvious reasons: we elect (ostensibly) informed representatives to execute policies in our interest, so let's leave direct democracy to the masses who vote on American Idol contestants.

    The fact is that the Democrats' failure to pass the bill is an example of weak party leadership, and a White House that for too long was content to let Congress hash out the bill's details. (The converse was attempted in 1993, and we all know how that approach failed.)

    Health care in this country, an unfair system that is the number-one reason for bankruptcy among Americans and a soaring albatross on the American national debt, urgently needs to be reformed. The Republicans do not have a comprehensive plan for accomplishing this, and they never, ever discuss this issue unless the Democrats are leading the charge.

    And besides, it's clear that they never intended to be "bipartisan" on this plan in the first place; just look at the vote totals for the stimulus plan, which has been cited by none other than the American Enterprise Institute for salvaging our economy from its depths of last spring. They are the Washington equivalent of fanactic jihadists, bent on destroying the Obama presidency regardless of the policy.

    This plan, I believe, will pass, flaws and all. He has spent too much political capital on it, and it will be difficult to remedy much of the political fallout, especially as the bill won't go into effect until 2014.

    But it's progress, and it's the mandate that he was placed in office to enact. In the end, I believe the country will be better off for it.


  2. Karl~

    I think you make a number of good points. The Democrats have failed b/c of their internal debates, which has given the Republicans ample time to make a very partisan counterchallenge. However, the Republican challenge, I think, is twofold. First, as you point out its political. Second, it is built on fundemental differences in policy. The problem though is that the Republicans utterly fail to offer a comprehensive package. Right now I believe this is largely due to being closed out by the Democrats. I think the Republicans offered some very good ideas at the healthcare summit, which was quickly dismissed by Obama. That being said I don't think, if or when ObamaCare dies that the Republicans will seize the intiative. This is a huge failure on their part. Too often the Republicans allow themselves only to play defense. They stop excessive liberal reforms, but do not go far enough to push their own reforms.

    If ObamaCare fails, I hope that the Republican leadership, when it regains control, does not drop the ball on healthcare. In a political sense it is foolish to always play defense. After a while the other side will always win w/ this strategy. This is why we see incremental creep, in fits and starts, of the liberal agenda in America. Republicans have to become more progressive and offer ideas to reform that are rooted in conservative principles. We know how to fix healthcare in a way that is not only better in terms of principles, but also for individuals and society. The principles are meaningless if they cannot define active ways to move forward.


  3. Josh--

    I must disagree with your central thesis in your response. Politically, it's ALWAYS easier to play defense than go on offense -- just ask George W. Bush, whose social security reform proposal was slaughtered by Democrats in 2005, who basically offered no alternatives to a program steadily going bankrupt.

    The Republicans did offer interesting alternatives/modifications at the health care summit, some of which have been (sort of) embraced by the administration: medical malpractice trials by judges and not juries, as well as more aggressive means to slash Medicare waste and fraud. The question is whether Obama could have amended his proposal in any way that would have attracted any Republican votes, short of scrapping an entire year's worth of progress to start over in an election year, which just isn't feasible.

    I guess there are different ways to define the phrase "bargaining in good faith," but in my view, it's when those negotiating are actually interested in a compromise. In Obama's case, having dragged this debate out for well over a year, I think it's safe to say that he was interested in attracting Republican votes, and he's made numerous concessions in order to do so -- dropping the public option not the least of them.

    But as for the Republicans? Remember, they essentially owned Congress for 12 years, and they never once advanced a proposal to reform health care, as SCHIP and the like were piecemeal Democratic proposals. Now, faced with the prospect that the Democrats will enact a fundamentally popular platform, they are now advancing their plans, acting as if they had planned to execute them all along if only Americans would return them to power.

    I also ask to what liberal agenda are you referring to that is creeping on America: this health care plan certainly isn't what "the left" wants, Obama has surged in Afghanistan, embraces nuclear power, wants a cap-and-trade plan similar to McCain's 2008 platform, is advancing merit pay for teachers and school vouchers, has left Israel to its own devices, passed a stimulus plan that was 40 percent tax cuts, etc.

    These are, essentially, centrist if not right-of-center policies, similar to the Clinton mold. I would not expect a conservative to embrace Obama, but more Republicans, in my view, should remind themselves that he is far, far from the worst that liberals -- and the Democratic Party -- have to offer these days.


  4. Karl~

    A couple of clarifications. Yes, you right in terms of political expediency that it is easier to be on the defense. Maybe I should have said philosophically it is foolish to always be on the defense. This goes hand-in-hand with the leftist creep. What I mean is not necessarily in terms of Obama's policies, but a longer, historical process. The historical trend is one of more entitlements, more government management, and less free-market. This has been a left wing response to abuses of the market.

    Historically the pattern seems to be left-wing progressiveness that paves the way for more government and more entitlements. Eventually, the left goes too far and the right comes into play. At most the right can scale back programs at the margin, but in general they simply become caretakers of the new status quo, failing to make proper reforms in a different model [herein lies the distinction between conservative ala keeping the status quo and modern conservative ala classical liberl/freemarket]. Eventually, the left is voted back in to reform the system.

    This is a defensive system that prevents classical liberal/conservative ideas from really changing America. I think this is largely where the "New" in A New Republican comes from. A lot of Republican ideology is supposedly grounded in the doctrines of our founding fathers; however, too often the GOP simply looks backwards. I view these principles as guides for the way forward. I don't think the past was some Golden Age, but I do think the ways forward proposed by the Left are not good. Republicans need to apply the princples in ways to reform and fix our system, not just use them as talking points agains the Left.



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