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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.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 31, 2009; 6:04 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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When republicans were in power, on DeLay's orders, he and his colleagues rejected every piece of legislation written by a democrat. They considered even a small victory for the democrats would be blasphemy. And that mind-set has not changed.

It matters not one whit that doing nothing would be harmful to the economy and people's lives, because, they believe, defeating healthcare reform translates into electoral wins for them -- which explains why this is a top number one priority on the republican agenda.

Therefore if reconciliation is the only way to get healthcare reform passed, then the democrats need to do that.

Otherwise as the wheels of progress grind to a stop, republicans will have their victory dance once again.

But this victory translates into a death sentence for millions.

Ultimately both parties will suffer the consequences if healthcare reform is not passed.

Posted by: serena1313 | August 31, 2009 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Wha? I thought Obama's hands were tied, the Gang of Six process was written in stone, and a bill with a public option could never get out of the Senate.

Ezra, some acknowledgment that you've misread the space of political possibilities here would be nice.

Posted by: timmyfuller2 | September 1, 2009 4:41 AM | Report abuse

It is time to revisit the Senate rules which have now evolved to super majority of 60 for everything. The idea of a supermajority was a big push in State legislatures to block tax increases (see California), however, was generally rejected as a tool for overall legislative action. How did we get to the idea that this was required for everything in the Senate? Time for the "nuclear option"!!

Posted by: ncaofnw | September 1, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

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