Over the last few days, Republicans have repeatedly cited Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-WV) opposition to passing comprehensive health care reform through the reconciliation process as proof that Democrats are skirting Senate rules to “ram through” unpopular legislation. Republicans reason that if Byrd — the Senate pro tempore and an architect of reconciliation — believes that the process cannot be applied to reform, then Democrats — who no longer have a supermajority in the Senate — should “scrap” the existing legislation and “start over” on a bipartisan basis:
— SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): “As Senator Byrd says, running health care through the Senate like a freight train is an outrage because it basically turns the Senate into the House, into a majoritarian institution.” [The Atlantic, 3/04/2010]
— SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): “The man who wrote the Byrd rule is Robert Byrd. He said so as recently in the last twelve months that it should not be used for health care.” [Washington Times, 2/25/2010]
— SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): “Less than a year ago, the longest-serving member of the Senate, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, said, ‘I was one of the authors of the legislation that created the budget ‘reconciliation’ process in 1974, and I am certain that putting health-care reform . . . legislation on a freight train through Congress is an outrage that must be resisted.” [The Washington Post, 3/01/2010]
But as it turns out, Byrd doesn’t oppose using the reconciliation process to pass a small package of fixes to the Senate health care bill. In a letter to the editor published in Thursday’s Charleston Daily Mail, Byrd writes that it’s appropriate to use reconciliation on a package that reduces the deficit.
“I believed then, as now, that the Senate should debate the health reform bill under regular rules, which it did,” Byrd wrote. “The entire Senate- or House- passed health care bill could not and would not pass muster under the current reconciliation rules, which were established under my watch.” “Yet a bill structured to reduce deficits by, for example, finding savings in Medicare or lowering health care costs, may be consistent with the Budget Act, and appropriately considered under reconciliation.”
So now that “the longest-serving member of the Senate” has endorsed the Democrats’ strategy, will Republicans abandon their campaign against majority rule? It’s unlikely.
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.