Reconciliation for Reconciliation's Sake
Put aside the manifold problems of using the budget reconciliation process to pass health-care reform. Increasingly, it looks like there will be no choice. And that may be a good thing -- though not for health care.
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. Now Barack Obama might use it for health-care reform -- and if that works, for much else.
The reconciliation process's modern role has almost nothing to do with its original purpose. It doesn't reconcile budgets. It evades the filibuster. And maybe its increasing centrality is a good thing. One scenario is that reconciliation becomes a fairly common, albeit still constrained, process to pass legislation without risking the filibuster, which makes the Senate work a bit better. Another is that the need to sidestep the filibuster makes reconciliation common, but its limits begin to annoy members of both parties, and so they either unshackle reconciliation or repeal the filibuster, either of which would make the Senate work much better.
Either way, the elevation of reconciliation -- by both parties -- amounts to an admission of the problems with the filibuster, and a step towards a 51-vote Senate. The further that process advances, the better the Senate will work. In the long run, that's a good thing.
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