The irony of “reconciliation”
posted at 9:30 am on August 19, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
The New York Times offers a strong hint that Democrats in the Senate will use the budget reconciliation process as a cover to move ObamaCare through the chamber to avoid a filibuster. The Democrats will “go it alone,” the headline reads, although the actual report makes the how of that rather ambiguous. And well it should, since the Democrats know — or should know — that to try reconciliation would be an invitation to a war that would bring Congress to a screeching halt:
Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s cooperation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.
Top Democrats said Tuesday that their go-it-alone view was being shaped by what they saw as Republicans’ purposely strident tone against health care legislation during this month’s Congressional recess, as well as remarks by leading Republicans that current proposals were flawed beyond repair.
Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the heated opposition was evidence that Republicans had made a political calculation to draw a line against any health care changes, the latest in a string of major administration proposals that Republicans have opposed. …
The Democratic shift may not make producing a final bill much easier. The party must still reconcile the views of moderate and conservative Democrats worried about the cost and scope of the legislation with those of more liberal lawmakers determined to win a government-run insurance option to compete with private insurers.
In fact, the article never mentions the word “reconciliation,” the process by which the Senate approves a budget for the federal government. Under the rules of reconciliation, no cloture vote is needed, as the chamber has a Constitutional duty to produce a budget. Some Democrats have threatened this for months, notably Chuck Schumer, but the plan has a couple of big flaws. First, the Democrats have to convince the Senate parliamentarian, ostensibly non-partisan, to agree that the bill is primarily budgetary. No one in their right mind could honestly make that judgment about massive regulation of 15% of the American economy. They’re likely to get denied before they even get started.
However, if they do manage to get past that obstacle, the Republicans can shut down the Senate for the next year. Those unfamiliar with the parliamentary procedure may not realize that a great many steps get skipped by unanimous consent. Bill-reading is just one example. One Senator can force each and every bill to be read aloud at every appearance it makes on the Senate floor, including when they are sent to committee. For ObamaCare and cap-and-trade, one bill reading could take a week, keeping the Senate floor locked off from any other business.
Traditionally, Senators give each other the courtesy of unanimous consent to allow business to proceed at a normal pace. If the Democrats try to force ObamaCare through reconciliation, that unanimous consent will dissipate faster than an Obama expiration date. It won’t take the entire Republican caucus to gum up the works, either; it only takes a single objection to end unanimous consent, and the GOP has more than a couple of conservative firebrands who will gladly toss sand in the gears to stop Harry Reid from steamrolling them.
Democrats might think that this will gain them sympathy with the public, but not if they’re breaking rules to pass an increasingly unpopular and intrusive piece of legislation. It will create a firestorm of anger even worse than what we’ve seen in the townhalls thus far. They would be signing their way to minority status, especially in the House. They can kiss the rest of their agenda goodbye for the rest of this session, too, including cap-and-trade. Even budgeting will prove very difficult.
There’s a reason the Times didn’t mention reconciliation. It’s a bluff. Not even Harry Reid is this foolish.