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'Unprecedented'

Thumbnail image for filibusters-1102.gif

So using the budget reconciliation process is unprecedented. And using Deem and Pass is unprecedented. According to my conservative friends, it's all unprecedented. The fact that budget reconciliation and Deem and Pass were both common Republican tactics does not, it seems, lend them any precedent. It's as if what's really unprecedented is Democrats being unwilling to fold in the face of Republican obstruction.

We have to make a decision here, though. Is it a problem if the workings of Congress are transformed by unprecedented use of existing rules? If so, then we need to start with the filibuster. The fact that Democrats had to break more filibusters last year than in the 1950s and 1960s combined is, quite literally, unprecedented.

And let me be clear: I think this is a problem. You can't run the Senate on a supermajority requirement. Budget reconciliation is a limited and bizarre process. Deem and Pass is, as I said yesterday, both politically and substantively inane. Congress needs to decide how the place is going to be run and then rewrite the rulebook so that it actually works that way. Otherwise, it's just going to be one unprecedented event after another. Unprecedented use of the filibuster will trigger unprecedented reliance on reconciliation. Unprecedented gridlock in the Senate will lead to unprecedented efforts by the House to protect itself from Senate failure.

But you can't pick and choose. Either unprecedented use of the rules is a problem or it isn't. But if it is, then you have to be upset about the filibuster. And if it isn't, then you can't be upset when the rules are manipulated by both sides. Congress can work by the letter of its laws or by the spirit of their intent, but it's got to be one or the other.

Graph credit: Norm Ornstein/The American.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 16, 2010; 2:27 PM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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Next: Explaining deem and pass

Comments

Of course, it is unprecedented for the Dems to actually stand up for something. Only the Rs play to win.

Don't count your chickens yet, Ezra. The Ds could still chicken out.

Posted by: AZProgressive | March 16, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I just want to know if you guys are going to be OK when tort reform / privatizing Social Security gets passed via reconciliation next time the Republicans control the Senate?

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

@JD2: I can't wait until repiglicans sign on to privatizing social security. it will be the end of republican control of anything for a generation.

See TX and CA, on the effectiveness of tort reform on medical costs (short answer, no effect). This dog won't hunt either.

Posted by: srw3 | March 16, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

That said, if repiglicans want to "jam through" these bills, the next dem controlled congress will try undo them, especially SS. I think it would be better for the senate to have majority rule on most issues. Limiting or revising filibuster rules would be a good thing.

Posted by: srw3 | March 16, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Inigo Montoya could set the Republicans straight:

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2y8Sx4B2Sk

Posted by: billkarwin | March 16, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

srw3:

I live in California, where medical malpractice premiums have FALLEN. Californians Allied for Patient Protection conducted research which shows the average annual premium for a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology in Los Angeles was "only" $90,000 last year, compared to nearly $195,000 a year for the same specialist in Nassau and Suffolk counties of New York, a state without medical malpractice reforms.

Try Google sometime!

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller , D-Calif., was asked by reporters about reports that preliminary CBO scores showed that

the reconciliation bill does not save $2 billion over five years as required under budget rules, and that

the costs of the total bill topped $1 trillion.

“I don’t know that yet,” he replied.

“We’re waiting to hear back from CBO.

When I left the meeting last night, we were sending it back to CBO.”

Rep. Robert E. Andrews , D-N.J., who has been asked by House leaders to help promote the bill, also declined to talk about whether

initial CBO estimates may have revealed problems.

“They were preliminary scores.

By the nature of the fact that it’s a draft, I don’t want to comment on it,” said Andrews.

***

Any comments?

Posted by: SisterRosetta | March 16, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

SisterRosetta:

If they can't find enough "savings" from the federal takeover of student loans, they will keep adding more and more BS until the CBO numbers say what they want them to say. Obamacare will end up costing at least TWICE as much!

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't seem like any decrease in malpractice premiums has translated into lower insurance premiums in CA, or lowered healthcare costs.

Posted by: jnfr | March 16, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

"You can't run the Senate on a supermajority requirement." Sure you can. It's been done for a long, long time. Current leadership just isn't up to the task.

"I can't wait until repiglicans sign on to privatizing social security. it will be the end of republican control of anything for a generation."

I would hope the GOP wouldn't try to privatize social security when the better answer is to eliminate it entirely. A means tested program for low-income people is one thing, but generational transfer of wealth is something else entirely. It's unconscionable that I'm forced to subsidize the retirement of someone who isn't necessarily low-income and may in fact have substaintial resources.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | March 16, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

jnfr:

Because that is just one component. How about we deregulate and open up State borders to ALL competition too?

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

NoVAHockey:

Even better!

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I love it when people act like Democrats have something to fear from Republican policies. I for one am quite comfortable with legislation passing with a simple majority, and being judged on the merits. But maybe that's a consequence of being in a party whose policies are, you know, popular.

Posted by: Jenn2 | March 16, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

The Republican misunderstanding of the word "precedent" possibly stems from when their Supreme Court justices handed the election to their ideologically-preferred candidate and then tried to claim the decision would have no precedential value. At that point they broke the meaning of the word "precedent"...

Posted by: gilroy0 | March 16, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

JakeD2, I can't believe you forgot tax cuts! That's the holy trinity of Republican health care reform. If someone points out that medmal reform doesn't lower costs like it didn't lower them in McAllen, Texas, then you say that it's just that they can't write insurance policies meeting Alabama's minimum standards. If anyone ever points out that this could potentially result in worthless "insurance" that doesn't cover anything, then you say "tax cuts", which fix everything. It's like the legs on a stool. If someone says they don't see how tax cuts are going to get us universal, more affordable health care, then you say Do you really want to wait to see a doctor like they do in ENGLAND? (For variation, Canada is also acceptable.) Come on, you don't have a lot of time to perfect this logic.

Posted by: Jenn2 | March 16, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Jenn2:

First of all, I am not a Republican.

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't seem like any decrease in malpractice premiums has translated into lower insurance premiums in CA, or lowered healthcare costs.

Posted by: jnfr | March 16, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse


ya because they're related. I'm sure it has NOTHING to do with the fact that there's no individual mandate in california. I'm sure its ALL insurers profits. Those greedy devils!!!!

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 16, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

@ JakeD2

Social security reform has been a pet issue of mine for the past year. We lost my mother-in-law at the age of 55 about a year ago. becuase she was divorced and her daughters were older than 18 (23 and 30 - my wife), Social Security paid out a big fat $0 in benefits. so MIL paid in since she was a teenager with a part time job until the day she died as a full time nurse, and got nothing out if it.

It's even worse for minorities -- particularly black men. they're likely to be low-income and their average life expectancy is a bit higher than the begining retirement age, but lower than the full retirement age. so they'll pay into a program that is betting a lot of them won't even live long enough to collect benefits. that's cruel.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | March 16, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

JakeD2:

Malpractice premiums actually didn't fall in CA due to tort reform in 1975. They fell due to insurance reform in 1998. Here's a graph of malpractice premiums over time that illustrates it nicely: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/images/mm_graph1.gif.

Posted by: paul5280 | March 16, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

JakeD2: "I just want to know if you guys are going to be OK when tort reform / privatizing Social Security gets passed via reconciliation next time the Republicans control the Senate"?

Are you kidding? First, there has never been any serious legislation to privatize Social Security. Bush's reform did not come close to "privatizing" Social Security. And tort reform? Through all the lawyers? Tort reform is a talking point, not a serious policy initiative Republicans want to pursue. And Republicans couldn't wimp out on the smart, moderate Social Security reform Bush put forward fast enough.

When the tables are turned, the Republicans will mostly try to co-opt Democratic ideas, buy votes, and forget the conservative base exists. Cuz that's just how they roll.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | March 16, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

NOVAHockey,

so I'm guessing you're against property taxes too, no? Me too. They're killing me. We average $7000+ per year here in NJ (mine are right around $8500 and going up annually no matter what the state government says.

I feel like I have to send my kids to public school just to get something for it.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 16, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

JakeD2: "I'm not a Republican."

Just curious--are you a registered independent or something else? I'm a registered Republican. But that's only because there isn't an official "Vote Against the Democrats" party.

BTW, Jenn2: Yes, the answer is tax cuts. Put the money back into the hands of the people that earn it. The instinctive, predatory urge to raise taxes--on any and everything, at every opportunity--is why I'm a registered Vote-Against-The-Democrats guy.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | March 16, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

paul5280:

Did I say just those reforms passed in 1975?

Kevin_Willis:

No, I am not kidding. I do not think that the FEDERAL government was given the Constitutional power to run the Social Security ponzi scheme.

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

American Independent Party.

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

@NoVAHockey: "I would hope the GOP wouldn't try to privatize social security when the better answer is to eliminate it entirely."

Actually, allowing a portion of individual payments to be put in a private account forever associated with that individual sounds pretty good to me. We can continue to service the original social contract, while allowing people to use a small portion of the taxes they already to pay to build up a private account. Additionally, the money for those private accounts will either go into government bonds or index funds that puts some of that money to work in the market.

Or we can just keep doing what we're doing, which is the argument Republicans have for healthcare. ;)

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | March 16, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

@JakeD2: "No, I am not kidding. I do not think that the FEDERAL government was given the Constitutional power to run the Social Security ponzi scheme."

Maybe, maybe not, but my "are you kidding?" was about the expectation that the Republicans would ever do anything about it. Even with the leadership of the president, the house and senate Republicans refused to make the case for a minor, positive reform to Social Security and, indeed, attacked it or distanced themselves from it in any way they could. Don't look to those guys for leadership on the issue. It just ain't there.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | March 16, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

JakeD2:
You certainly implied it. Insurance reform had a lot more to do with lowered malpractice premiums in CA than tort reform did, but you didn't mention that in your comment above. Maybe you didn't know about it, or maybe it didn't fit with your argument...

Posted by: paul5280 | March 16, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Tort reform isn't about lowering medical costs. It is about making the rich richer and screwing the lawyers over for supporting Dems!

Posted by: AZProgressive | March 16, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Kevin_Willis:

Which is why I am a member of the American Independent Party ; )

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr --

I filled out my 1040 last weekened. Taxes at all level are my family's largest annual expense.

Our property taxes in Northern VA are fairly reasonable compared to what you're paying. And it doesn't make sense to link the revenue stream to property values, which like everywhere else, took a nose-drive. The problem now is there's a shortfall and the powers that be won't make the cuts needed to balance the budget. And off course it's the end of the world we if cut back on anything in the public schools.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | March 16, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

@visionbrkr: "so I'm guessing you're against property taxes too, no? Me too. They're killing me. We average $7000+ per year here in NJ (mine are right around $8500 and going up annually no matter what the state government says."

I realize that wasn't directed at me, but that stinks, dude.

A reasonable assessed property tax is fine, in my opinion, but assessments are so rarely reasonable. And state and local governments tend to look at property taxes like an infinitely deep well of dollars, when higher and higher taxes will eventually kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

I also think property taxes should be assessed on the purchase price of property rather than future assessments of value. If you make a modest wage and live in a house for 30 years, the taxes can easily become 10 or 20 times the cost of your house payment, based on an estimated value you cannot realize until you sell the house, if then. And you can save the tax payers money by not hiring an assessor to go out and figure out some way to say everybody's home value has gone up, even as the market crashes, so you can raise property taxes without technically raising them.

I tend to favor end-point consumption taxes and usage fees. Gasoline taxes that fund our Interstate system just makes sense. The more you drive, the more you pay for the Interstate system. License fees, toll roads, sales taxes (I also like the idea of variable sales taxes--20% tax on junk food, 2% tax on vegetables, higher taxes on DVDs and videogames and lower taxes on books, which, yes, would not win me many friends among most Republicans, but whatever).

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | March 16, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

BREAKING: Ezra Klein makes an offer that's hard to refuse!

"For the record, if Republicans will give health-care reform a vote -- just a vote! -- if I quit my job, I'll quit tomorrow."

LOL!!!

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Actually, allowing a portion of individual payments to be put in a private account forever associated with that individual sounds pretty good to me."

As long at that individual can pass the private account on to a beneficiary -- tax free -- that sounds entirely reasonable. i think that's a fair compromise.

fundamentally, I have a problem with forced/mandated retirement savings. sound policy or not -- if people don't want to save for retirement it's really not my place to tell them otherwise. but i also understand that such a view is in the minority.

but i agree the GOP isn't going to take it on unless they have a desire to be beaten with the "you hate old people" stick.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | March 16, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

NoVAHockey:

I think that's easy, you just admit that it's a ponzi scheme but one that we have to make good on for retired folks. Anyone already on Social Security and those over 55 get full benefits, but we go to a VOLUNTARY savings system with government matching that is 100% vested and transfers to a beneficiary tax free.

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

NoVaHockey,

ya with federal, property, state and payroll taxes I'm at about 45+% tax rate and its still not enough for NJ.

Kevin,

problem is that in NJ we have both consumption taxes and high income and property taxes.

Don't get me wrong we have good services here for the most part but they're now getting cut so as to avoid even higher tax burdens. Its a shame when 45% of my income isn't enough for the state/federal government to survive on.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 16, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

@ SS whiners.

Small adjustments in retirement age or maybe raising the cap on payroll tax will keep SS solvent for the foreseeable future. All these privatization schemes are appealing to wingnuts but basically unnecessary. I would go for a SS + where the govt partially subsidized (some kind of matching like some employers do) low and moderate income people (say family earnings < 60K on a sliding scale) to start 401Ks, but leave the SS system as it is.

Posted by: srw3 | March 16, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

@VB: Don't get me wrong we have good services here for the most part

I thought you were just railing about how you don't get services for the taxes you pay. What gives?

Posted by: srw3 | March 16, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

srw3,

well in comparison to say Alabama sure we get good services. Its value for those services that we don't get.

btw i'm not for privatizing SS. AND I'M NOT WHINING EITHER!! It'd work for me but not for low income people. I wouldn't want to be accused of being not concerned for them.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 16, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Like Barack keeps telling us "simple folk" out here, all he wants is a simple up or down vote on Obamacare....while he has Pontius Pelosi drag up "deeming"...to save the Democrats' asses....as well as her own...in the midtermn elections. Question: can a voting citizen deem to throw them all out on their butts?

Posted by: connyankee1 | March 16, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

The number of cloture votes is directly connected to ambitious agenda Pelosi has pushed in the House and the cadre of progressives that have been shouting "We control Congress" and "Why are we negotiating with Snowe? We have 60!"

The number of clotures represent the Republicans' calling the progressive bluff and giving moderate Democrats a chance to speak.

Posted by: cprferry | March 16, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't pResident Obama's latest "deadline" March 18th?

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 16, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

@JD2: Doctor costs have fallen, but the effect on health care costs is minimal.

"On average, their insurance premiums have fallen more than 30 percent since 2003, according to the Texas Medical Association. Thousands more doctors have moved to the state.

Expenses escalate
But the cost of health care still is rising. Consumers are paying higher insurance premiums, which continue to escalate faster than earnings.

And according to the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy, Medicare spending in Texas rose 24 percent in the three years after the state capped malpractice awards. In Dallas, it went up 27 percent during the same period, 2003 to 2006....But it's important to keep in mind who gains and who loses in the trade-offs that will be part of reform.

As Morrisey and his colleagues put it:

"The results of this study suggest that there are no insurance premium savings that accrue to consumers. Are there other benefits to consumers? If these cannot be identified, it is difficult to see a justification for the loss of legal rights."" Dallas morning news http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/columnists/jlanders/stories/DN-Landers_21bus.State.Edition1.9be351.html

So tort reform doesn't seem to have much effect on the cost of health care, which is the point I was making. It just lowers the penalty for actual doctor malpractice.

Posted by: srw3 | March 17, 2010 2:29 AM | Report abuse

Cuts to Social Security are prohibited under the reconciliation process.

Posted by: cautious | March 17, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

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