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Judd Gregg: 'If you've got 51 votes, you win'

"The point is this," Sen. Judd Gregg says in this 2005 defense of the Republicans’ use of the budget reconciliation process. "If you've got 51 votes, you win."

The idea "that it is outside the rules to proceed within the rules," Gregg laughs, "is a very unique view on the rules." He's right! Sadly, he has now adopted that unique view on the rules, complaining that reconciliation is "running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River."

Obviously, Democrats were similarly hypocritical at the time, arguing that reconciliation was a terrible abuse of power. And so it goes: People start from their preferred outcome and then make up principles that support it. But at all times, the most convincing argument is the one Gregg uses above: Elections generally work on the principle that if you have 51 percent of the vote, you win. That's how we ratified the Constitution at the Massachusetts Convention. That's how we elected Scott Brown and Ronald Reagan. That's how the House of Representatives passes legislation. And it's how the Senate should work.

Reconciliation is a limited and strange process with problems of its own, however, and it would be far better for Democrats, Republicans and the country if we just dismantled the filibuster. Instead, we're left with a situation in which the minority uses a rule that wasn't supposed to be the way the Senate generally votes to impose a 60-vote requirement and the majority uses a process that wasn't meant to be the way the Senate debates to restore a 51-vote rule. Loser? The country, which gets worse policy made under worse circumstances.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 26, 2010; 1:33 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: What do we want?

Comments

Gregg is now running around yelling about an impending debt meltdown in the US.

Funny he never was concerned about that until Obama was President, though Gregg was part of the reason the GOP created this debt.

Posted by: Lomillialor | February 26, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Reconciliation is more than a RULE, it's the LAW. In order to change the process, you need to get both houses to approve the change and the president's signature. At Congress Matters, David Waldman (a.k.a. KagroX) wrote:

"... reconciliation is more than just a procedure hidden away in the Senate rules somewhere. It's a matter of law. Specifically, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (2 U.S.C. § 641(e)(2)). Yes, that's right. As a matter of federal law, you can pass a reconciliation bill with just 51 votes. Because 2 U.S.C. § 641(e)(2) specifically limits -- by law -- debate in the Senate on reconciliation bills to 20 hours. Which means you can't filibuster it. Which means that it gets an up-or-down vote (remember those?), with no 60 vote threshold required. Plain old majority rules.

"By. Law."

Link: http://www.congressmatters.com/story/2009/8/20/20309/1501

Posted by: meander510 | February 26, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Can you believe the audacity of the federal government in 2005....deciding to actually take less money out our citizen's pockets with only the agreement from 51 Senators?

If they are going to take less of our money they better damn well get 60 Senators to support that kind of radicalism!!!!

I mean that's not like something simple such as redefining how we're allowed to pay for our medical services...this about taking less money out of our pockets....they can't just decide to take less of our money in such a willy-nilly fashion!!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 26, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

"Can you believe the audacity of the federal government in 2005....deciding to actually take less money out our citizen's pockets with only the agreement from 51 Senators?"

---

Taking less money out of the pockets of the rich, but without cutting spending in kind - actually increasing spending, thus raising the deficit.

You know, the Deficit? That thing that the GOP cares about so much when they're out of power, but conveniently ignore when they're in power?

Troll.

Posted by: VTDuffman | February 26, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

That video is gold. I need to get that audio track on an iPod and play it every time I hear about 60 votes.

Posted by: bswainbank | February 26, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

FYI: If Democrats pass healthcare under reconciliation, congress will UN-pass it with reconciliation in 1 year from now.

Unlike the Democrats, next year's reconcilliation move will have "bipartisan" support.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 26, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

"FYI: If Democrats pass healthcare under reconciliation, congress will UN-pass it with reconciliation in 1 year from now."

---

You really think that the GOP is going to win a congressional minority this November?

Fascinating.

Posted by: VTDuffman | February 26, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

"And so it goes: People start from their preferred outcome and then make up principles that support it."

I'm not as cynical about this as you are. It's pretty evident that all people are good rationalizers, but I still think the people who talk the most about "principle" are the ones to participate in this activity most often. And I do think there's a difference between using "principle" as a political tactic to fight political tactics and using "principle" as a political tactic to fight policy. But then, maybe I'm rationalizing there.

Posted by: slag | February 26, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Today's New York Times editorial on health care reform goes to the heart of the political situation:

"Here is a basic fact: If the House Democrats voted tomorrow to approve the Senate bill, health care reform would become the law of the land."

The NY times is saying precisely the right thing here. With all the talk of reconciliation, supporters of health care reform are losing sight of how easy it is to pass reform at this point. We are just one House vote away from it. The House could do it tomorrow, or next Monday, or next Tuesday. No need for complicated negotiations, obscure procedures, backroom deals. Just a single, clean vote and it's done.

If House Democrats are smart, they'll pass the Senate bill at the beginning of next week. If they later want to do fixes and amendments through reconciliation, the bill once passed with be out of the spotlight and they can take time whatever time they need to do it without doing any political damage to themselves. What Democrats and their supporters should be pushing for is not "Do reconciliation within the next four to six weeks!" but "Pass the Senate bill Monday afternoon!"

Posted by: opinionpieces | February 26, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

minority = majority. My Bad.

Posted by: VTDuffman | February 26, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

@VTDuffman: "You really think that the GOP is going to win a congressional minority this November?"

They've already got a minority. But I'm assuming you meant "majority" . . .

It's not impossible for the Republicans to win a narrow majority in one or both houses. The Republican base seems to be very revved up while the Democratic base, not as much. Right now. But . . . it's a long way 'til November.

Things change.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 26, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

un-Reconciliation requires a president's signature. Obama will be that President.

Posted by: Lomillialor | February 26, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I find these reconciliation posts somewhat pointless, though that whole bit about making up principles to support decisions applies to Ezra Klein as much as to any politician.

Reconciliation refers to a means of amending something that already passed the Senate with cloture. Actually enacting it still requires a House majority to approve language that's far less popular now than the bill they barely passed in early November.

I fully understand that the leadership won't get any sleep until the bill gets an up or down vote in the House. But actually passing it may not even be a goal anymore. If it is, it's certainly not getting any less ambitious.

Posted by: cpurick | February 26, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Can we take the Senator up on his offer? Democrats will not use reconciliation if we can actually try "running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River."

Posted by: DisgustedWithItAll | February 26, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I understand why the House mistrusts the Senate and the WH--they've done all the heavy lifting and the Senate has failed to reciprocate--however I think this precisely the reason why House Dems need to pass the Senate bill first. Because once they do so, the Health Care bill has passed. The argument against a reconciliation bill of a few minor fixes and the president's priorities then becomes much less effective.

Posted by: kchang4_99 | February 26, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,
We all are missing this. Bill already passed by Super majority in Senate (60 votes) only amendments going through reconciliation.
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/02/the_real_story_on_health-care.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

Posted by: farhanr | February 26, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, your argument might be a little more persuasive if you it were closer to being correct. The Constitution was not ratified on a simply majority, 9 of the 13 states had to ratify for it to go into effect. The whole Constitution is built on protecting minority rights, not majority rule. That is why we are a republic, not a democracy.

Posted by: dbring99 | February 26, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Majority rule is great... but I have to pause and wonder why Speaker Pelosi has not yet brought the Health Care Reform bill up for a vote in the House, which is controlled by a Democratic Party majority. If majority rule is good, why doesn't she simply bring the matter up for a vote, here and now?

It's been two full months since a SUPERmajority in the Senate passed the bill... why can't a mere majority in the House be allowed to vote on it?

The House is a purely majoritarian body -- no delays due to debate by the minority -- so it's odd that Speaker Pelosi wouldn't simply bring the matter up for a vote. Is there a problem of which we citizens are not yet aware, despite a Presidential summit yesterday?

Posted by: rmgregory | February 26, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: CommieBlaster | February 26, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

People in this thread are absolutely right to point out that Pelosi needs to bring the Senate bill up for a vote. Next Monday or Tuesday, preferably, but I might be willing to wait until Wednesday afternoon or god forbid Thursday morning in case there is a snowstorm or something.

A vote in the House on the Senate bill is the absolute minimum that must happen if Democrats want their base to support them in November. Pushing for a vote is what we should focus on now, during the next few weeks, or during the next eight months if necessary. If the bill fails in the House, so be it, but at least those who opposed it won't be able to hide. If there is no vote on the Senate bill, there won't be any way to tell which House Democrats supported health care reform and which ones were against it. In that case, the only thing to do in November is vote against the party as a whole. There is really no other way to exert pressure on the leadership than to make this a referendum on the party as a whole. Pelosi needs to schedule a vote right now.

Posted by: opinionpieces | February 26, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

If you are posting a video from Judd Gregg and the use of reconciliation, why then are you not also posting a video concerning the response of the Democrats? It is amazing how those on the left who support this bill are completely ignoring the hypocrisy of the Democrats on the issue. There is not just one side being hypocritical in regards to reconciliation, but you wouldn't know that if you only read this blog.

Posted by: Bob65 | February 26, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

"You know, the Deficit? That thing that the GOP cares about so much when they're out of power, but conveniently ignore when they're in power"


The deficit? You mean the thing the Dems cared about during the Bush years, but now care nothing about now?

Posted by: Bob65 | February 26, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

You might also point out (as someone else did, but I cannot remember who), that the filibuster is a Senate rule, whereas the reconciliation process is, in fact, a law.

Posted by: jimjinphx | February 26, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

This is proof of GOP hypocrisy, and all the left needs to do is stay focused on hitting these soundbytes over and over until hard headed GOP supporters see clearly and lose the argument.

Posted by: StonedandHappy | February 26, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Bob65 posts his IQ for all to see and then consider whether his opinion is of value.

Bobofthe65 IQ says: ...how those on the left who support this bill are completely ignoring the hypocrisy of the Democrats on the issue.

Ezra's actual post: Obviously, Democrats were similarly hypocritical at the time, arguing that reconciliation was a terrible abuse of power.

Bobofthe65IQ, bringing innumeracy as well as illiteracy trailing behind him.

Posted by: koolhand21 | February 26, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Can you give a reference to an actual Democrat who said in 2005 that resort to reconciliation was an abuse of power?

I am sure that many Democrats have changed their views on the merits of the filibuster rule since 2005. But I am skeptical of the claim that Democrats in 2005 or otherwise claimed that use of budget reconciliation was improper.

Posted by: witten1 | February 26, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

"The House is a purely majoritarian body -- no delays due to debate by the minority -- so it's odd that Speaker Pelosi wouldn't simply bring the matter up for a vote. Is there a problem of which we citizens are not yet aware, despite a Presidential summit yesterday?"

So it is odd? Really?

These calls for an immediate House vote on the Senate bill reflect either that an extreme lack of attention to ths HCR story, or are designed to be intentionally misleading.

Anyone who has followed the news at all is already well aware of the fact that the White House plan put forward by the President in advance of the summit includes a number of new amendments to the Senate's legislation.

Most of these provisions are the anticipated House-Senate compromises, but there was also a completely new idea from the White House, in the form of a Federal regulatory authority on health insurance rate increases.

Furthermore, the President wanted to hear out the Republican ideas at the summit, and at least one Republican complaint (the Florida exemption to the Medicare Advantage overhaul) might well find its way into the reconciliation package.

So, obviously, the White House and the Congressional leadership will take some time to craft the reconciliation bill. Once the House understands HOW the Senate bill will be amended under reconciliation, they will vote.

To vote for something now, knowing that it will be changed by another bill, but not yet knowing what the changes will be, would be irresponsible -- like signing a blank check. Once the reconciliation package is ready, both chambers can move to final passage of the Senate bill and its amendments.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 27, 2010 12:47 AM | Report abuse

That's about as clear a picture of the very essence of hypocrisy that could ever possibly be painted.

Republicans suck. Every last one of them.

Posted by: captainkona | February 27, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I am a pro-life Dem so a curse on both your houses. Here is just a thought for Dems or should I say Libs. The GOP may get power back in Nov. They may not stop at overturning Health Care they may go after everything you hold dear through Reconciliation. Those that seek power riding on the back of the tiger end up inside.

Posted by: timrossiter | February 27, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

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