Monday, March 8, 2010

Reconciling Reconciliation

Depending on who you listen to, reconciliation is either the solution to getting health insurance reform passed or the act of a despotic Congress. I thought it might be a good idea to look up the actual history and procedures for reconciliation.

Reconciliation was created in 1974 to prevent the filibuster of a contentious budget bill. In short, the process is designed to allow the 2 houses of Congress to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions without needing another 60 vote cloture majority in the Senate to get anything done. Since 1975, it has been invoked 22 times. 19 of those were successful. 16 of those 19 were invoked by Republican led Senates. I have listed some of these at the end of this post.

Historically, the minority party in the Senate complains about the use of reconciliation, while the majority party calls it a valid tool. Both are right and wrong.

What we now have is the specter of luminaries like the ever redoubtable Mitch McConnell trying to make the point that there is something bad about a 50 percent plus 1 majority. This is the new theme among Republicans. Majority rule is bad. Of course, when they had the slim majority, they said the opposite.

And, as always, the Democrats are equally dishonest and hypocritical. When they were in the minority, they screamed about reconciliation as despotic. Now that they have the majority, they sing a different tune. What the Democrats in Congress will not admit is that their leadership destroyed the chance to pass the bill when they adamantly shut Republicans out of the process.

Republicans cemented their being out of the loop by failing to offer any alternative legislation, thus establishing themselves as the permanent nay sayers.

Whether either side likes it or not, this is what the concept of reconciliation is intended for. A hopelessly deadlocked Congress intent on doing nothing or as little as possible while hiding behind pointless partisan bickering.

Here are some of the bills subjected to reconciliation:

1) The Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1993, AKA the 1993 Clinton budget. Senate vote: 50-50 with Vice President Al Gore breaking the tie.

2) The Balanced Budget Act of 1995, which sought cuts in Medicaid and welfare programs, restructuring of Medicare and major tax cuts. Senate vote: 52-47.

3) The Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999, a package of tax cuts and health care reforms. Senate vote: 54-46.

4) The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, AKA the Bush tax cuts. Senate vote: 58-34.

5) The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, further tax cuts. Senate vote: 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote.

6) The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which included cuts in Medicaid and Medicare. Senate vote: 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote.

7) The Tax Increase Prevention and Reduction Act of 2005, an extension of tax cuts. Senate vote: 54-43.

8) Marriage Tax Penalty Relief Reconciliation Act of 2000, which reduced certain taxes for married couples. Senate vote: 60-34.

9) The Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which included reductions in Medicare payments and the creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Senate vote: 85-15.

10) The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, a tax cut package that also included education savings measures. Senate vote: 92-8.

11) The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007, which increased federal funding and loans for higher education. Senate vote: 79-12.

12) The Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1990, which included tax increases proposed by President George H.W. Bush. Senate 54-45.

The list speaks for itself. Note that most are not the "wide majorities" McCain pointed out, nor are they evil laws as Reid and Pelosi pointed out when they were leading the minority.

Like everything else in Congress, this has become another excuse for more flaming spitballs across the aisle and another excuse to do nothing in an election year. Well, if it is nothing they want to do, let's give them that option by voting them all - Democrat and Republican - out in November. That should reconcile the problem.

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