However, there are some features of this resolution with which I take exception, most notably the use of reconciliation as a tool to expedite health care reform. The arguments over the use of reconciliation are familiar to this body. Sadly, a tool intended to streamline the painful process of deficit reduction has been used to clear a path for major policy changes that have, at best, only a passing relationship to reducing the budget deficit. This is not the first budget resolution to abuse the special budget procedures to ease the enactment of significant and potentially controversial policy changes. Perhaps the grossest misuse of reconciliation was to pass sweeping changes to the Tax Code in 2001 and 2003 that far from reducing the deficit actually exploded annual budget deficits and government debt. Indeed, we are still living with the downstream effects of those fiscally reckless measures that have left us less able to meet either the current economic crisis or our long-term fiscal challenges.Here's another Feingold speech on the breakdown of decorum in the Senate. He heavily quotes Republican senators as models of honorable conduct.
I had hoped that with a new President in the White House and Democrats in control of both Chambers we could restore a respect for the proper use of budget procedures. But while the budget we pass today is a huge improvement over those submitted by the previous administration, both with respect to honest budgeting and the fiscal path it embraces, its misuse of reconciliation to advance policy priorities is regrettable.
I opposed using reconciliation when it was abused by the other party to enact fiscally reckless tax cuts and when it was attempted to be used to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. I opposed it earlier in this debate as a way to expedite climate change legislation, and I oppose it now as a vehicle to fast-track health care reform.
Congressional leadership indicate they may not need to use reconciliation to enact health care reform, that it will be used only as a last option to ensure Congress acts on that vitally important issue. That may be, and I certainly hope this body will pass a health care reform measure under regular procedures. Health care reform is long overdue, and I look forward to the Senate finally acting on an issue that is so important to my constituents. But let's not kid ourselves. It is no more appropriate to use reconciliation as a hammer to push through health care reform under regular procedures than it is to use it directly to enact those reforms. Both are abuses. Both undermine its original intent. Both invite even greater abuses in the future.
Original post: Just a few years after Rep. Paul Ryan supported the use of an obscure procedural motion to pass President Bush's tax cuts, he's criticizing Democrats for doing the same to pass health care reform.
Ryan is crowing about Democrats using "reconciliation" to pass health care reform through the Senate. The procedure allows the Senate to approve legislation without a filibuster-proof majority. Normally, the minority party in the Senate can derail legislation by refusing a bill to come up for a vote.
Put another way, most bills need 60 votes to pass the Senate to stop the opposition from stalling the proposal, but reconciliation only requires 51 votes. Ryan told the National Review:
“This is a massive abuse of power. The reconciliation process was designed for the budget and to help reduce deficits and debt. Now it’s being used to create new entitlement programs. The Democrats hijacked the rules in order to exploit a procedure.”Ryan, who opposes Democrats' health care reform plans, is upset with reconciliation because it makes it easier for the bill to pass the Senate. But he was OK with reconciliation when President Bush and Republicans were in power. (Ryan may argue the Bush reconciliation votes were over the budget, while Democrats plan to use reconciliation for "entitlements," though Democrats counter that health care reform has critical budget implications for the country.)
And this isn't to just pick on Ryan. Democrats complained about Republicans using reconciliation under Bush, but now they're set to do the same. It's a sad commentary on a system that repeatedly proves: There's no honor in politics.
Democrats and Republicans follow an important rule when they're in power: Get while gettin's good. President Obama and Democrats know their time in the majority is limited, and they're trying to push through health care reform while they have the chance.
No doubt Republicans will do the same when it's their turn, just as they've done in the past.