Retiring Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) has supported the use of reconciliation when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House. “We are using the rules of the Senate here,” said Gregg in 2005 as he defended using reconciliation to open up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. “Is there something wrong with majority rules? I don’t think so.” But now that Democrats are considering using reconciliation to pass a package of ‘fixes’ to the Senate health care bill, Gregg is accusing them of “embracing” Hugo Chavez’s “politics” and “running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River.”
In today’s POLITICO, Gregg warns that “Democrats may attempt to use reconciliation to short-circuit every senator’s right and responsibility to fully debate a measure that will affect one-sixth of our economy” and laments that “only a simple majority” will be required “for final passage”:
A reconciliation package would be hurried through in less than three working days. In the U.S. Senate, a minority of one usually has the unique right to be heard. But through the procedural confines of reconciliation, only a select few get to speak. Major policy changes that have long-term effects deserve thoughtful consideration and lots of sunshine — using reconciliation would wave that away. Think about how long your child will deliberate before choosing a university, how long it takes to assess investment or retirement plans for your family’s future or even how long it takes to find your next home. Doesn’t health reform deserve the same careful consideration?
Gregg is right to argue that reconciliation “first emerged to give Congress a tool to help bring spending and revenues in line with the fiscal policy” and ultimately lower the deficit. Since the House and Senate first used the budget reconciliation process in 1980, they passed 19 reconciliation bills that “have been enacted into law,” including major health care reform initiatives. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) notes in a recent report, “[r]econciliation legislation enacted in 1997 created the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” the Medicare Advantage program in 1997 (then called ‘Medicare+Choice), and COBRA.
In 2001 and 2003, Gregg and his fellow Republicans broke with tradition and used the reconciliation process to “enact a large tax cut that greatly increased federal deficits and debt.” Now that they’re in the minority, they’re opposing using the process on legislation that would result in the largest deficit reduction in the nation’s history.
Should Democrats decide to take the reconciliation route, they’d be passing legislation that has been debated for over a year in the House and Senate– a debate Gregg actually voted against. That’s an example of implementing the agenda Americans voted for in 2008, not short-circuiting “responsibility.”
After all, as rising Republican star Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) admitted in April, Democrats have the “right” to pass health care reform through the reconciliation process. “It is their right. It is what they can do,” he said.