President Obama has signaled that he is open to using the tactic of budget reconciliation to advance health care reform and cap-and-trade. Reconciliation allows some legislation to be protected from filibusters and passed by a simple majority vote. Speaking at the Heritage Foundation today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) conceded that when Republicans were in power, they had laid the “groundwork” for reconciliation by frequently employing the procedure to pass major Bush agenda items:
MCCAIN: I fully recognize that Republicans have in the past engaged in using reconciliation to further the party’s agenda. I wish it had not been done then, and I hope it will not be done now that the groundwork has been laid.
McCain has a mixed record on reconciliation bills. Though he opposed the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts passed through reconciliation, he supported other Bush agenda items passed through reconciliation, such as legislation to reduce spending on Medicaid.
McCain’s comments today stand in stark contrast with the central argument being made by other Republican Senators on reconciliation — that it is somehow a radical shift in Senate procedure. For example, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), the GOP ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, compared reconciliation to “running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River.”
McCain is right that Republicans laid the groundwork for using reconciliation. Since 1995, Republicans have pushed everything from the Contract with America, to welfare reform, to tax cuts targeted at the rich, to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, using reconciliation. Republican leaders even fired successive Senate parliamentarians who disagreed with their use of reconciliation.
Will other Republican Senators wake up from their political amnesia and accept that they have no standing to reject budget reconciliation now?