On May 1, Congress passed President Obama’s budget, which included language allowing for the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform with a simple majority in the Senate. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said any use of budget reconciliation by Obama would be “regarded as an act of violence” against Republicans, and likened it to “running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River.” Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) made similar remarks, while Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) called reconciliation a “purely partisan exercise.”
But at least one Republican recognizes that the use of reconciliation — while rare — is not unprecedented or unethical, let alone “an act of violence.” On Bill Bennett’s radio show yesterday morning, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said of budget reconciliation: “It’s legal, it’s ethical, you can do it.” Further, Frist said that he believed Obama would be able to get a health care package passed this year:
BENNET: We just had Bill Kristol on. He said he’s got real doubts that [Obama] will be able to pull [health care reform] off. Bottom line, Do you think they can?
FRIST: Nah, I think Bill’s wrong. I think they’ll pull it off. … You can drive things through a fifty vote threshold, instead of that sixty vote threshold. And you don’t do it maybe one out of a thousand bills do you do it on. But it’s legal, it’s ethical, you can do it. And it has been suggested and accepted by the administration, pretty directly that if it came down to it, they’re going to drive this thing through a fifty-vote door. And if they do that…they can pass whatever they want to. I hope that they don’t do that.
Frist’s “hope” that the budget reconciliation process is not used is actually fairly close to what the Hill characterizes as “the mainstream Democratic view: a bipartisan agreement [on health care] is preferable, but they’re willing to revert to reconciliation if necessary.” Indeed, as Howard Dean explained at the America’s Future Now conference earlier this month, “Democrats should have ‘no intention’ of working with Republicans if it’s not the strongest possible legislation that could be passed with a simple majority.” More bluntly, Dean remarked, “If Republicans want to shill for insurance companies, then we should do it with 51 votes.”
Similarly, former President Bill Clinton explained in a meeting with a group of progressive bloggers yesterday that the priority should not be garnering Republican support at the expensive of effective universal coverage:
If he can’t get a bill that’s genuine universal coverage, that genuinely is going to cut costs and make health insurers give up some of these unbelievable administrative burdens that they’ve put on people, and that really gets to the guts of the delivery system and does more primary preventive care and actually measures things that work, then I would go for the 51.