Sausage: Looking Good

The big political question at the moment is whether the Democrats will try to force their health-care bill though Congress using a procedural shortcut called “budget reconciliation”. This parliamentary loophole was put in place in 1974 for the sole purpose of making it easier to legislate the many adjustments that go into harmonizing a budget bill amongst various committees. When it began to look as if the new procedure would be routinely abused, it was braced against such misapplication by a set of rules introduced by Senator Robert Byrd in 1985.

Orrin Hatch wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post yesterday excoriating the democrats for considering this option to pass their health-care package. (You can read it here.) Here’s a wee sample:

This use of reconciliation to jam through this legislation, against the will of the American people, would be unprecedented in scope. And the havoc wrought would threaten our system of checks and balances, corrode the legislative process, degrade our system of government and damage the prospects of bipartisanship.

Less than a year ago, the longest-serving member of the Senate, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, said, “I was one of the authors of the legislation that created the budget ‘reconciliation’ process in 1974, and I am certain that putting health-care reform . . . legislation on a freight train through Congress is an outrage that must be resisted.”

For his trouble, the liberal TV host Rachel Maddow gave Mr. Hatch an earful on her show last night. (You can see it here.) She did not mince words, and said many times, quite without equivocation, that Mr. Hatch was lying. (Not “mistaken”, or “being misleading”, mind you, but lying.) She listed, as evidence of his hypocrisy, all the bills that Mr. Hatch had helped to pass using reconciliation. There were more than a few, although Ms. Maddow seemed not to notice that they were all, arguably, exactly the sort of bills that the reconciliation procedure was intended by its creators to apply to, unlike the one presently at hand.

Apparently the feud has now spilled over into Twitter, if you are interested in following that up. (I’m not.)

So who’s right? Seems to me that both may be overstating the case a little, but my own sympathies are with the conservative opposition, as readers will already know. I realize, of course, that statecraft occasionally requires taking a principled stand in defiance of transient popular passions, but in this case the bill is so bad, the expansion of government so egregious, the tactics so underhanded, and the general sentiment of the polity so willfully disregarded, that I rather find myself hoping that the Democrats attempt this brazen ploy, fail spectacularly, and are gutted at the polls in November.

It would be nice to be able to cite some utterly impartial authority as regards the competing claims made by Mr. Hatch and Ms. Maddow, but so polarizing is this health-care business that disinterested parties are hard to come by. But if you would like to read an in-depth examination of the matter from someone who can speak with “unimpeachable” authority on matters of Congressional procedure, Newt Gingrich — the former Speaker of the House, and himself an enormously polarizing figure — today issued a detailed essay on the matter, peppered with informative links. Have a look here.

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  1. I am curious, Malcolm, and perhaps you can provide an answer. Suppose that Obama & Co succeed in forcing this through with a tiny majority but the GOP win one or both houses in November, will they be able to do anything about it then? I *assume* that it would need another bill, or can they just rescind the whole thing and go back to what was before?

    Posted March 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi David,

    If a voter backlash in November succeeded in shifting the balance of power in Congress enough, then yes, the bill could be undone (though it would be a messy business). Of course it would still be subject to a presidential veto, and there is very little chance that conservatives will pick up enough seats this year to override a veto.

    But of course there is a Presidential election in 2012…

    Posted March 4, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  3. Ah, yes, I had forgotten the presidential veto. So, whatever squeaks through in the next month you are stuck with. Not much fun for you lot ‘over there’ but it’s making grand entertainment for us lot watching from ‘over here’ – and it takes our minds off our own problems which “come not single spies but in battalions”!

    Posted March 5, 2010 at 4:43 am | Permalink