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Reconciliation & The Health Care Reform Bill

Updated on August 16, 2010

Should Democrats Pass the Health Care Reform Bill Through Reconciliation?

As the health care reform debate heats up, politicians on both sides of the aisle and pundits alike are increasingly invoking an obscure legislative process once reserved for the passage of omnibus budget bills in the Senate as a possible way forward.

Although the Democratic Senatorial Leadership had repeatedly ruled “reconciliation” out as a viable solution to the health reform morass, it appears that this is not only presently back on the table as a tenable alternative but seems ever more appealing and almost inevitable in light of two recent political realities.

First, with the loss of the Massachusetts senate seat previously occupied by the late Senator Ted Kennedy to Scott Brown, the Democratic caucus no longer has the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority it once enjoyed. Republicans can now with their 41 votes, effectively use the filibuster or even the threat of it to thwart programs they deem undesirable.

Second, the Democrats do not have the votes in the House of Representatives they need to, if they chose to, do what many have referenced as the easiest, least problematic path to victory: for the House to rubberstamp the version of the heath care reform bill that passed the senate in December, 2009.

With a number of democratic senators now adamantly insisting on re-introducing some version of the public option and President Obama steadfastly nudging Congress to plainly put the matter through a simple vote, reconciliation is again being touted as not just foreseeable but unavoidable.

But what exactly is reconciliation and what is its historical context? If heath care reform is realized through reconciliation, would it detract from the rectitude of the cause or would democrats face the wrath of the citizenry at the polls in November, as many have suggested?

Reconciliation in the most classic or traditional sense, is a short-circuited legislative process, originally introduced by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, that attempts to shield a contentious budget bill from the filibuster by limiting debate and amendment within the US Senate. It was originally looked upon as a vehicle for instituting fiscal responsibility (reducing deficits or increasing surpluses).

However, over the last several years the application of this process was broadened by the majority party to pass key non-budgetary legislative initiatives that ironically ballooned deficits!

Regarding whether or not reconciliation should be invoked for the health care reform bill, strictly listening to the Republican Leadership, one might conclude that democrats are, out of desperation, bent on hijacking or circumventing normal legislative processes.

What’s lost in translation is the fact that of the 23 bills enacted through reconciliation since 1980, 17 were actually signed into law by Republican presidents. Under George W. Bush’s presidency, Congress used reconciliation to pass three major tax cuts that substantially increased the national deficit.

It is my contention that Democrats should shed their squeamishness for a change and fully utilize all available legislative mechanisms, including reconciliation (or the “nuclear option” as it has come to be known lately), to pass a health care reform bill that would truly provide universal coverage to the citizens of this country.

The Republicans have disingenuously demonstrated an unwillingness to meaningfully participate. They have repeatedly declared that they’d rather kill the bill and start from the scratch. This must not be allowed to come to fruition.

Should this landmark legislation die, Democrats would, come November, no doubt draw the ire of voters in a way that would usher unimaginable consequences for the Obama Administration.

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