The Cowardice Of The House

Even loyal Democrats must surely be getting quesy about the prospect of passing major legislation that will have enormous consequences not only for health care, but for the deficit and the U.S. economy forevermore, through increasingly desperate measures that try to cover for the fact that the public is opposed and the votes just aren’t there.

The latest whip counts show opponents of defeating the reconciliation strategy a mere eleven declared no votes away from victory, so now the focus is on an even more gimmicky option of merely voting on amendments to the Senate bill and thus “deeming” the original to have passed the House without a vote.  If that doesn’t strike you as cowardly for legislation of this magnitude, I wonder about your mental stability.

The Washington Post editorial board blasts the manuevering:

WE UNDERSTAND the administration’s sense of urgency on health-care reform. But what is intended as a final sprint threatens to turn into something unseemly and, more important, contrary to Democrats’ promises of transparency and time for deliberation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Monday that she is leaning toward a parliamentary maneuver under which the House would vote on a package of changes to the Senate-approved reform bill, and the underlying Senate bill would then be “deemed” to have passed, even though the House had never voted on it. That may help some House members dodge a politically difficult decision, but it strikes us as a dodgy way to reform the health-care system. Democrats who vote for the package will be tagged with supporting the Senate bill in any event. Why not be straightforward about it?

More worrying is that Congress and the country have yet to see the changes, for which Democrats hope to win quick House approval and which they then hope to speed through the Senate under a procedure that would bar filibusters. These changes — the so-called reconciliation bill — are not all minor “fixes”; some could have far-reaching consequences. Such changes deserve to be fully understood and debated before they are voted on.

Another reason for the change in tactic is that the reconciliation process requires that the House bill reduce the deficit in comparison with the Senate bill that is being reconciled (recall that reconciliation’s original purpose was as a deficit reduction tool) and the House has of course given away the farm to try to ensure passage, and thus it is increasingly unlikely that the CBO will issue a report that even ALLOWS the use of reconciliation.

All of this should give everyone but the most stubbornly partisan Democrats ample cause to reflect: ditch the current package and start over.  Involve the Blue Dogs and the Republicans.  Accept that such notions as universal coverage and the public option will not pass in the current climate and stick with what reforms will. 

This is increasingly turning into a political fiasco of epic proportions.  If the Democrats truly intend to use the “deem and pass” strategy (the GOP is forcing a vote on the strategy, as well it should), I deem it likely a large number will not return for another term…

8 comments to The Cowardice Of The House

  • Fargus

    Honest question: If deficit reduction is the only way reconciliation can be used, how was Bush able to pass his tax cuts using the process?

  • That’s a really good question. No snark intended…I’ll see if I can find an answer…

  • The answer: though it was originally understood to be used only to improve the government’s fiscal position (reducing deficits or increasing surpluses), the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 that authorized the process referred only to “changes” in revenue or spending amounts, thus technically allowing its use for non-deficit reducing measures. However, the Byrd rule, adopted in 1985, prohibits reconciliation for measures that would add to the deficit beyond a period of ten years (thus, the Bush tax cuts were made to expire in ten years, to conform with the Byrd rule). It is presumably the Byrd rule that has Dems worried about the use of reconciliation with respect to the forthcoming CBO estimates.

    All of this is a summary of the Wikipedia article here

  • It should be noted, however, that the WaPo article I linked to implies that there are more stringent rules in place than the Wikipedia article does…however, the WaPo article stresses that the deficit reduction rules apply not to current law, but to the bill that passed and is being reconciled – so perhaps (don’t remember the history) the Bush tax cuts passed one chamber, and the other chamber reconciled the bill by meeting the deficit reduction rules in comparison with the bill that passed…

  • Fargus

    I still don’t get it, though. From what I can gather, reconciliation requires that all of the provisions have an impact on the budget, but not, from the Wiki summary, that the impact has to be specifically one way or the other, apart from the 10 year provision in the Byrd rule.

    I think I understand it now, and part of the confusion stems from commentators all around eliding the two bills actually under consideration. First, there’s the Senate bill that passed on Christmas Eve, which the House would need to pass before the Senate can start work on reconciliation (deem-and-pass notwithstanding; I think it’s a stupid and tone-deaf idea in the first place, though not as controversial as some hypocrites on the right are trying to make out).

    The reconciliation bill would then have to not increase the deficit in the long-term compared to that. The CBO has scored the Senate bill as reducing the deficit by something like $118 billion in the first 10 years, and then further after that, right? Let’s leave aside the question of whether you think that’ll hold up or not. For now, it’s the relevant measure. So once that’s law, the reconciliation bill would have to function as reducing the deficit past the 10 year mark on its own, so it doesn’t matter if the combination of the Senate bill and the reconciliation fix would in combination reduce the deficit, because the Senate bill, once passed, would be the baseline, and the fix would have to reduce the deficit beyond that baseline.

    Complicated. Understandable, but complicated. It doesn’t help that commentators all over the place are talking about “passing health care through reconciliation,” because that’s simply not true.

  • Bob from Ohio

    though not as controversial as some hypocrites on the right

    Plenty of hypocrites on the left too. Pelosi and Slaughter filed an amicus brief in a Nader lawsuit challenging the use of a similar scheme in 2005 or so.

    Plus, the filibuster was great when it held up Bush judicial appointments, not so good now. (The GOP flip is not so great, the filibuster in gneral was not being attcked, only a particular use.)

  • Fargus

    Oh, I don’t disagree with you about hypocrisy on the left, Bob. It’s not that I don’t recognize it, it’s just that it wasn’t what I was talking about at the time. There’s hypocrisy to spare on both sides on the deem-and-pass issue. As far as filibusters go, there’s hypocrisy aplenty to go around, though I’ve come around for several reasons to the view that the filibuster is just a bad idea no matter who’s in power. Rule by loophole and exploitation of arcane Senate procedure is no way to run a country no matter who’s in charge. Getting rid of filibusters was a good idea. Getting rid of them just for judicial nominees was a silly idea. But whether or not you like the fact that the Democrats are in power, they are, and by decisive margins. It’s disingenuous at best to call them enacting their agenda somehow “thwarting the will of the American people” (that’s one I hear on right-wing talk radio a lot). Like it or not, the part that the American people have in the process directly is at election time, and at the last one, they signaled big support for Democrats. That won’t be the case this November, to be sure, but until then, it’s their right to enact their agenda. It’s hardly a convincing argument to say that because Americans didn’t vote in more than 60 Democrats who are willing to vote in lockstep all the time on everything, that that means the American public is against the Democratic agenda.

  • Martha Coffey

    I think we have a bunch of crooked politicians trying to force something that is not acceptable.

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