Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reconciling Senate differences

I've been hearing a lot about the political process of reconciliation lately, seeing as the Democratic super majority no longer exists -- and for practical purposes never really did. A large tent means diverse views, and it's hard to get everyone on the same page.

I don't really understand the process all that well, but from what I can gather, it began in 1974 to eliminate the possibility of filibustering budget-specific legislation. Since then, the use of the measure has been extended in ways it was never intended, but I like it.

Essentially, it returns us to a simple "majority rules" position. When the filibuster was introduced early in our country's history as a leftover of parliamentary procedure, political parties didn't really exist -- or at the very least they were not so divided. Gaining 60 votes for important measures was probably much easier, but now the game of politics supersedes the importance of progress, health care being just one example.

I don't really have a problem with the Republican standpoint other than the fact that they disingenuously stand for nothing. The claim is that they want to amend the bill, but the ways in which they wish to do so are largely unclear. Mostly we hear about tort reform, which would make it more difficult to sue doctors frivolously and lower the cost of health care by lowering malpractice insurance. Okay. Fine. I like that, but it's not enough.

The only other complaint I here frequently is the idea of pork barrel spending, which is a direct result of trying to set up state-run insurance pools -- which would not be an issue had the public option or single-payer system been set up nationally. The problem of pork resulted directly from a compromise that the Republicans demanded and are now scoring political points for actually landing.

It seems fairly evident to me that Republicans could care less bout health reform; rather, they are interested in defeating Obama and gaining political ground. Our good friend Mr. Stephen Colbert sums it up best:

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It's pure politics. And the Democrats are just as guilty at this point. They need this legislation to save face, but in an attempt to pass it in a bipartisan matter, they've allowed too much compromise to water it down. It seems like everyone has forgotten that keeping their job is secondary to actually doing it.

I say it's time to use the reconciliation measure and slam this thing through. With only 51 votes needed, Democrats could easily get a public option in as part of the bill -- potentially even something resembling single-payer -- and we might see some real change.

Republicans are complaining endlessly about the process of reconciliation, arguing that it undermines the intentions of the founders, but according to The New York Times, 16 of the 22 bills passed using reconciliation were done while Republican were in control, most notably the creation of COBRA, the Bush tax cuts, and welfare reform. Republicans weren't complaining then -- Democrats were. Nobody likes to loose, and reconciliation favors the majority, but so does democracy, so deal with it.

I simply don't buy the argument that reconciliation necessarily leads to bad legislation. Legislating leads to bad legislation because people are flawed and make poor decisions. That doesn't mean, however, that legislating is bad or that reconciliation in the case of health reform will be bad. In all likelihood, we'd be better off passing a more comprehensive bill than rolling over and doing nothing.

The only problem is that it would take some courage on the part of Democrats, a resource they lack seeing as protecting their own jobs appears more important. But the reality is that Americans elected these people to affect meaningful change, and if they don't, we'll fire them just as quickly. The Republicans know this, so they're waiting it out, which is a smart move.

For the Democrats, the smart move is to take a chance and attempt to serve their constituents, to do what they think is best. Even if they lose their respective elections because of it, at least they might maintain some respect.