Very strange choice of language by the Associated Press:
“I think the chances are still good,” Baucus told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. “I talked to them, and they all want to do health care reform. But the sad part is a lot politics have crept in. They are being told by the Republican Party not to participate.”
If it falls apart, Democrats will have to turn to the “nuclear option” — forcing through an inferior bill through a process that only requires 51 votes instead of 60, Baucus said.
You would like to think that AP writers have some rudimentary knowledge of American politics. All bills require 50 votes, plus the Vice President, to pass. Most bills can, however, be filibustered unless 60 Senators agree to break the filibuster. An exception is bills passed under the budget reconciliation process created in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 and modified in an important way in 1996. Ronald Reagan’s groundbreaking tax cuts in 1981 were passed through reconciliation. So was Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget. So were George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Under Bush, congress even tried to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to drilling via reconciliation—they failed because they couldn’t get the fifty votes. There’d be nothing unusual about passing significant legislation through reconciliation. Nor would a reconciliation bill necessarily be an “inferior” one. It just might have to have a more limited subject matter.
The “nuclear option” is a term that came into vogue in 2005 when Democrats were filibustering a number of appeals court judges. The idea was that the GOP would take advantage of the fact that the President of the Senate (i.e., the Vice President) can, if backed by 50 Senators, pretty much issue any ruling of parliamentary procedure he likes. They would have Dick Cheney rule that you can’t filibuster judges, back him up with 50 votes, and then that would be that. Unlike reconciliation, that would really be a novel move with no real precedent. At the time, I suggested Democrats resolve the crisis by proposing to end filibusters altogether. Instead, Democrats did the reverse, agreeing to let the objectionable judges take office in exchange for the Republicans agreeing to maintain the inviolability of the filibuster. And that, in part, is how we got to our current impasse.