Speaking for Republicans at yesterday’s health care summit, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called on President Obama and congressional Democrats to “renounce” the reconciliation process to finish health care reform. Though Alexander said it’s “right” that reconciliation has “been used before,” he declared that “it’s never been used for anything like this.” (In fact, reconciliation has been used regularly for health care reform initiatives.)
Though conservatives like Alexander have been falsely trying to paint reconciliation as a “nuclear option” that would “bypass rules in the Senate and ram legislation through on a one-party vote.” But their claims were undermined on Monday night when Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Senate Minority Whip, admitted on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show that “reconciliation is a perfectly legitimate process”:
KYL: Reconciliation is a perfectly legitimate legislative process to deal with budgetary matters. It is a, it is the one exception to the general rules of the Senate that was created about thirty or forty years ago, and Robert Byrd was one of the people that helped to create it, to deal with budget matters where you didn’t want a filibuster to prevent the balancing of the budget, in effect. I mean, there’s one thing you have to do. You have to be able to either increase your revenues or reduce your spending in order to balance the budget, theoretically. So they made that one exception to the policy of the Senate, which otherwise would have required sixty votes to do the big things. Now that process is available for those kinds of monetary-related subjects. And it has been used many times. That’s true. The Bush tax cuts were done as, through reconciliation, for example. Now there have been a couple of other examples where they ventured outside of pure monetary issues. They shouldn’t have. I wasn’t there. I don’t know why or how they did it. But in any event, it is not available for large, substantive, comprehensive kinds of legislation like this health care bill. It doesn’t work, it’s not suitable, and it certainly isn’t appropriate.
Though he claimed that “legislation like this health care bill” wouldn’t be “appropriate” for reconciliation, he admitted later in the interview that the whole health care bill wouldn’t be put through the process. “They would pass a fix up bill, a reconciliation bill to the Senate bill. They would fix the things that are wrong, in their view, with the Senate bill,” said Kyl. Listen here:
Despite claims from Republicans that Democrats would use reconciliation to “write the rules for 17 percent of the economy,” the process would actually only be used to make budget-related changes to the health care bill that already passed the Senate. Though it is unclear exactly what would be in reconciliation legislation, the proposal released by President Obama earlier this week is a solid indication of the changes that would be put forward. The paid-for changes in Obama’s proposal would cost approximately $75 billion, which means the reconciliation bill would cost approximately the same.
In his interview with Hewitt, Kyl asserted that Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) — the author of the rule constraining reconciliation to amending entitlement or tax law — would “object” to using reconciliation to finish health care reform because he previously objected to doing all of health care through reconciliation. Invoking Byrd has been a common GOP talking point on reconciliation. But a spokesman for Byrd told the New York Times that the senator isn’t opposed to using the process now “if it’s done right.”