Defending the Use of Reconciliation on Health Care

[digg-reddit-me]A meme among left wing bloggers in recent days (spawned no doubt on JournoList) has been variations on a particular defense of the use of the reconciliation process to achieve health care reform. Here’s Ezra Klein for example (though Matt Yglesias made an almost identical point):

Reconciliation began as a limited way to expedite passage of the budget bill that came at the end of each year. It did this by limiting debate and short-circuiting the filibuster. But year by year, administration by administration, it’s becoming more significant. It was used to pass much of Reagan’s economic agenda. Clinton expanded it to balance the budget, reform welfare and change the tax code. George W. Bush used it for tax cuts, trade authority and drilling in ANWR.

I wasn’t aware of this history when I wrote this earlier post suggesting it wasn’t the best option. But I think the political analysis still stands. Unless there is some hook that makes a certain set of facts stick, it will do nothing to derail the impression that most Americans barely attention get that health care reform was only able to get through a Cognress with a strong Democratic majority by trickery. This is a bad thing – though not worse than no bill at all in my opinion. I suggested:

A show of force whereby Obama pushes the Democrats to forthrightly endorse a bill would be – and play – much better in my opinion. Shenanigans – while legal – can be forgotten in time if the legislation proves popular; but a show of force would be more effective on almost every other level.

Of course, Obama would need to find some leverage to push people like Senator Ben Nelson – and it’s unclear at the moment what that would be. The best rationale though for pushing the reconciliation process is that it will make such a process unnecessary – as Ezra Klein explains:

If Republicans can kill the bill, that’s their first-best outcome. But if they can’t kill the bill, the second-best outcome, at least for some of them, may be to deal on it. If there’s going to be legislation, Snowe and Collins and Voinovich and a few others might want to see their priorities included rather than simply content themselves with a protest vote against the legislation. Reconciliation might actually get you to 60, because it ensures the endgame includes a bill rather than a failure.

[Image by Greg from Cobb Mountain licensed under Creative Commons.]

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