If health care reform is going to pass successfully through Congress, it’s looking more and more like that’s going to involve the reconciliation process. A bunch of folks are making that argument right now, ranging from Henry Aaron of Brookings to Jon Cohn of The New Republic. The reason why is rather simple: Senate democrats don’t need 60 votes to pass reconciliation, because in reconciliation there is no filibuster.
As you would expect, the right-wing media (think FOX News) has already started churning out the propaganda on this one. As Ezra Klein notes, they’re calling it the “nuclear option.” Not surprisingly, they’ve missed the mark with this one, too, and are hoping their viewers are too ignorant to catch them at it. This is because the nuclear option refers to a point-of-order process in the Senate that allows a filibuster to be ended not through the 60 votes of cloture, but by recognizing the unconstitutional nature of the filibuster. In fact, it used to be called the constitutional option, but that sounded way too legitimate and noninflammatory to remain in use. I will stress the following point in bold face: The nuclear option does not and never has referred to any part of the budget reconciliation process.
What’s the most ironic–or infuriating–is that Republicans are expressing such outrage that Democrats would pursue such an unorthodox route to pass health care reform, which the CBO shows would reduce the deficit, when Republicans themselves used reconciliation to push through the two largest (and deficit increasing) tax cuts our nation has ever seen. Why the irony? Because Senate rules stress that legislation passed via reconciliation must reduce the deficit. During the Bush administration, those rules were simply ignored. In fact, in the history of the reconciliation process, it’s the only time that’s happened.
As an excellent overview report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities makes clear, there is a strong precedent for using reconciliation to pass health reform. In fact, reconciliation brought us the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare Advantage, and COBRA. Republicans had a hand in each of those in one way or another. What there was no precedent for was Republicans’ use of reconciliation to cut taxes for the wealthy and jack up the deficit. But they seem to have forgotten about that.
What is clear, is that no matter what route the Democrats take in an attempt to move forward, they will be met with continued obstructionism from the right. Reconciliation can certainly work, but it will not necessarily be a smooth or painless process. In fact, if you want to catch a glimpse of the ugly political fight that might be ahead, you should read this from Jeff Davis. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.