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Reconciliation: what the GOP wants to debate at health summit

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) offered the GOP’s first rebuttal to President Obama and the Democrats at this morning’s health-care summit, and as he spoke it quickly became clear that debate Republicans want to have this morning isn’t about substance, it’s about process. Alexander challenged the president to renounce the filibuster-avoiding maneuver of reconciliation, and his argument came down to an over-quoted Alexis de Tocqueville line about the “tyranny of the majority.” Obama smoothly brushed him off, saying, essentially, “no, really, let’s talk substance; we can worry about procedure after we discuss the important stuff.” That’s the right move for Obama -- he sounds pretty grown up, and he avoids having to endorse the controversial procedure on live television.

Still, though Alexander was surely bringing it up because it’s an issue on which the GOP can score some easy points -- indeed, speaker after speaker keeps returning to the issue -- it does seem as though reconciliation is one of the last open debates left to have after months of policy discussions. And Alexander’s argument deserves rebuttal. So allow me.

The response to “the tyranny of the majority” reasoning is the constitution, a document that guarantees a basic set of rights to all regardless of the whims of 50 percent plus one. If that’s not enough for Alexander, there’s the Senate, an upper chamber that by its very structure checks the more democratic (small d) House. Both have been extremely robust at hobbling the majority.

The truth is that most of the debate over reconciliation and the filibuster, as the Post editorial board and George Will point out this morning, is an exercise in situational ethics. It just so happens that it’s politically convenient -- at the moment -- for the Republicans to be on what I think is pretty clearly the wrong side of the issue. And citing de Tocqueville doesn’t bolster their intellectual credibility.

By Stephen Stromberg  | February 25, 2010; 12:18 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Comments

To republicans; You had 8 years to reform health care and refused to even attempt reform.

Stop delaying Do the right thing for AMERICA!

Posted by: knjincvc | February 25, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

To Liberals- interestingly when the Republicans were the majority, using reconciliation to bypass the Liberal minority was a BAD, TERRIBLE, thing to do. Now that the Liberals are the majority it is a good thing to do and the Republicans should just shut up and accept it. Please remember this when the shoe is on the other foot.

Posted by: schmitt_fam | February 25, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Reconciliation has been used by a Republican-controlled 16 times out of 22, among those the ruinous Bush tax cuts to the uber-wealthy, and the horrendous Medicare Prescription that banned Medicare from using its market power to obtain lower prices from Big Pharma.

Of course, the shoe is on the other foot now, and Republicans, sore losers as they are, are whining.

Posted by: Gatsby10 | February 25, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

this is post partisan. it reminds me of the show politically incorrect which was the most politically correct thing on television with its four dems and one conservative each week. this guys a joke

Posted by: harbinger317 | February 25, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Taliing about majority, what about the super-majority of Americans who do not want this legislation passed. It should be that the majority of the senate is supporting the majority of the people, but fortunately 40% of senate has that ability and they are doing their job. We want legislation that the people want, not what the Democrats want.

Posted by: wredner1 | February 25, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Dems think they have a reconciliation gun aimed at Republicans.

Dems are just playing another round in their year long game of healthcare Russian Roulette. Republicans should just keep feeding them more bullets until run out of Dems to shoot.

Dems really should study which end of a gun performs which function before they start threatening people.

Posted by: jfv123 | February 25, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Yep. Reconciliation has been used 22 times in our history.

16 of those 22 times it was done by Republicans.

Yet now they say it's a horrible thing to do?

Why can't the WP point this simple fact out?

There was a day when the WP would at least give the basic history of something like this. You'd think it'd be relevant to point out that Republicans have used reconciliation FAR more than Dems have.

Posted by: Hillman1 | February 25, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

At this point we don't care what method is used to begin healthcare reform (this will be a process that unfolds over several bills and several years). All we know is that something has to be done now, despite the Party of No.

Posted by: gposner | February 25, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Frank Luntz, Republican anti-health reform strategist: "You're not going to get what you want, but YOU CAN KILL WHAT THEY'RE TRYING TO DO."

Rush Limbaugh, titular leader of the Republican party: "There's ONE THING WE GOTTA STOP IS HEALTHCARE. I'm serious, now. If they get that, then that's the tipping point."

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK):"DEFEATING OBAMA'S HEALTHCARE AGENDA IS GOING TO BE A HUGE GAIN FOR THOSE OF US WHO WANT TO TURN THIS THING OVER IN THE 2010 ELECTION. WE ARE PLOTTING THE DEMISE ON A WEEK-BY-WEEK BASIS."

Posted by: TruthFairy | February 25, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Other than for international treaties and cabinet confirmations, the US Constitution and the US Senate Rules explicitly state that all things shall be decided by majority vote.

That is: 49 US Senators and the VP as tiebreaker, as Cheney used to do.

The "filibuster" is not in either the Senate Rules nor the Constitution - it is an "understanding".

JUST USE THE MAJORITY YOU HAVE AND DO IT!

Posted by: WillSeattle | February 25, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I find Alexander's concern for process very interesting and encouraging. But when I check how he voted when the Repulicans under Bush, bypassed the process, by using reconciliation to pass an unfunded tax cut to the tune of $1T benefiting 3% of the population, he went along.

So, is it that he and the rest of the Republicans want to preseve the process for us, while they bypass it to spend even MORE on their supporters?

If so, are they not just hypocrites?

Posted by: AMviennaVA | February 25, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

The Media have not challenged GOP criticisms of reconciliation process. There are documented patterns of journalists uncritically quoting Republican senators criticizing the decision to use reconciliation, without noting that those same senators -- including Alexander, McConnell and Sens. Judd Gregg (R-NH), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) -- voted to allow the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass legislation during the Bush administration, including tax cuts.
I watched Gregg last night on Greta on FOX lie about reconciliation never being used at this magnitude and of course Gretta did not challenge him. I previously watched Rachael on MSNBC tell us the opposite. So, I Google and Lord and behold, guess who was telling the truth?
I DON’T EXPECT THE NEO-CONS TO DO THIS, BUT INDEPENDENTS PLEASE WATCH ALL THE NEWS SOURCES NOT JUST FOX. Fox is a "cyclonic perpetual motion machine" opposing President Barack Obama.

Posted by: gregorysherard | February 25, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

John Borrasso just said on C-span the government should promote better health habits to cut health care costs but then said they don't want big government telling them what to do?

Posted by: gregorysherard | February 25, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Had the Dems used reconciliation from the start the Repubs would have a far stronger argument. The use of the reconciliation to process to get the final 10 out of 100 yards is a relatively minor use of the reconciliation process. The Senate Dems did overcome the Repub filibuster and pass a bill. Since it looks like any final bill will largely be based on the Senate version there is a strong argument that the minority was given a fair chance and lost.

Posted by: chucko2 | February 25, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

"there’s the Senate, an upper chamber that by its very structure checks the more democratic (small d) House. Both have been extremely robust at hobbling the majority."

--------------------

What a moronic statement! The only stuctural differences remaining between the chambers are internal rules, decided upon by the members of each chamber, and subject to change when rules are adopted by each chamber at the beginning of each biennial session. The 17th Amdt destroyed the structural differences we were all taught in grade school, leading to a century of runaway spending. The reality is that the only real differences between the bodies come from Senators running amongst a larger group of the same polity as Representatives, except in the smallest of states where only one House seat is contested. In those cases, they seek office from the exact same polity as Senators!
Constitutional checks and balances have been almost completely stripped from our founding document. Until they are restored, sanity CANNOT return to the legislative process!!

Posted by: UncomfortableTruths | February 25, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Someone should remind our republican friends that there was an election in late 2008 and, guess what?, they lost. As Bush 43 used to say, that was the accountability moment. Obama was not required by the Constitution to get 60% of the vote in order to be elected, nor does the Constitution require 60 votes in the Senate to pass healthcare legislation---something the GOP probably remembers, given the fact that they used the reconciliation process in the Senate 16 times in the past.

Posted by: marcb1 | February 25, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Other than for international treaties and cabinet confirmations, the US Constitution and the US Senate Rules explicitly state that all things shall be decided by majority vote.

That is: 49 US Senators and the VP as tiebreaker, as Cheney used to do.

The "filibuster" is not in either the Senate Rules nor the Constitution - it is an "understanding".

JUST USE THE MAJORITY YOU HAVE AND DO IT!

---------------------

Interesting math, Einstein! In a full Senate, 51 votes is a majority. As for fillibuster (a spelling lesson or two might help as well), it is a tactic to prevent cloture (that would be your tie-in to the Senate Rules), from being invoked and traces to the beginning of Constitutional rule (something Ds have abandoned in the past 14 months), in which equal laws and procedures apply to all, rather than a favored or disfavored political class.

Posted by: UncomfortableTruths | February 25, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

I find Alexander's concern for process very interesting and encouraging. But when I check how he voted when the Repulicans under Bush, bypassed the process, by using reconciliation to pass an unfunded tax cut to the tune of $1T benefiting 3% of the population, he went along.

--------------------

WOW! What do you know? You mean Alexander actually voted to use reconciliation for a budgetary bill -- as it was INTENDED? You're really smoking now! Care to pass the pipe?

Posted by: UncomfortableTruths | February 25, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Since when has the House been robust at hobbling the will of what majority on what issue?? You don't back up your Delphic oracle-like statements with any facts!!

Posted by: georgerflynn | February 25, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

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