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Reconciliation 101: A "Nuclear" Abuse of Power

Posted By Rory Cooper On September 18, 2009 @ 2:25 pm In Ongoing Priorities | Comments Disabled

Why Reconciliation Exists

  • What Is Reconciliation? Reconciliation is an optional step of the annual budget process that allows legislation to be approved by 51 votes in the U.S. Senate rather than the traditional 60 votes necessary to withstand a filibuster. This could also be achieved with 50 votes plus Vice President Biden as the 51st.This process is a shortcut that limits debate, including floor debate, to only 20 hours.
  • The Purpose? Reconciliation was created to streamline Senate rules to make it easier for lawmakers to achieve the spending and tax levels in the budget resolution. It was not created to circumvent the Senate’s traditional role as the “world’s greatest deliberative body” and its 60-vote requirement in order to ram through what may be the most significant domestic legislation in our history. The health care bill’s impact goes well beyond the budget.
  • The Byrd Rule: To protect the sanctity of the Senate, Senator Robert Byrd (D–WV) enacted a rule to limit the inclusion of non-germane issues. The Byrd Rule prohibits reconciliation from including measures that do not change outlays or revenues or matters that would increase the deficit for fiscal years beyond those covered by the legislation under debate.
  • 60 Votes: The Senate intentionally has a 60-vote threshold to move important policy issues so that they receive the full attention and deliberation of the Senate. Centuries of tradition dictate that that is where “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”
  • Precedent: The Senate has used reconciliation in the past on strictly budget or fiscal matters, including the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, which, as revenue-altering bills, met the standards set by the Congressional Budget Act.

The Consequences of Reconciliation: Stopping the Debate

  • Bipartisan Prejudice: 59 Senators currently caucus with the majority. If reconciliation were to be used to pass health care legislation, it would disenfranchise senators and those they represent on a crippling partisan basis.
  • Setting Precedent: By bypassing Senate rules to pass a piece of policy legislation that overhauls one-sixth of our economy, the Senate would be setting a precedent for future partisan majorities to eliminate thoughtful debate and pass reckless and partisan legislation “by any means necessary.” Reconciliation bills are limited to 20 hours of debate and are difficult to amend.
  • Who Is Alan Frumin? The reconciliation process leaves incredible policy issues at the hands of the Senate parliamentarian, Alan Frumin. The non-elected Frumin would be responsible for deciding what could and could not be included in the final health care bill, making him the first of many faceless bureaucrats in Washington who could make important decisions that affect your health care.
  • Checks and Balances: Our Founders designed the Senate as the “balanced wheel” to offset the passions presumed to dominate the House of Representatives. This course of action would turn the Senate into a replica of the House, jettisoning the supermajority requirement and thereby losing a constitutionally vital check and balance.

A Better Approach to Health Care Reform

  • Start Over: Instead of passing a 1,000-plus-page bill that subverts the democratic process and cannot even garner the support of the entire liberal majority, Congress should start over. They should create simple legislation that lays the groundwork for states to be the leaders in health care innovation; provides economic relief to working American families, giving them real private choice and nationwide competition that allows them to carry their desired health insurance from job to job and home to home; and does not put Uncle Sam in the middle of the doctor–patient relationship.

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