For weeks now, Republicans have been grousing that, if Democrats use the budget reconciliation process to finish health care reform with a simple majority, it “would be unprecedented in scope.” “It would really be the end of the Senate as a protector of minority rights,” declared Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). It would “harm the future of our country,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). “They will lose their majority in Congress in November” if they use reconciliation, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) predicted.
On Fox News last week, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-AZ) declared that using reconciliation “to pass the most significant piece of public policy” of his lifetime would be “a railroading of the system”:
GREGG: We’re talking now about changing the entire way that health care is delivered in this country. We’re talking about taking the federal government and growing it from 20 percent of the economy to 25, 26 percent of the economy. We’re talking about changing the way that you and your doctor interact and you and your hospital — and your hospital treats you. These are huge public policy issues which really are way outside the reconciliation concept because they need debate. They need discussion. And they need to be subject to amendments on the floor of the Senate in order to do them correctly, or at least to have a proper airing of them and a fair treatment of them.
But this past week, the GOP has begun trying to downplay reconciliation in an effort to “scare House Democrats against voting for the health care plan, arguing that there’s no guarantee that the Senate approves a reconciliation package.” On CNBC, Gregg mused that “once they pass the great big bill, I wouldn’t be surprised if the White House didn’t care if reconciliation passed. I mean, why would they?” In an interview on Fred Thompson’s radio show, he even suggested that reconciliation was “almost irrelevant”
GREGG: But that’s what the game plan here is. Is to pass that bill, the big bill, and what they’re doing is they’re using this other bill, reconciliation, to basically buy off votes in the House from the more liberal members of the House who want to make this bill even bigger and more intrusive. And when they get those votes and they pass the big bill, that will go down to the president and it will be signed. And this side bill, which is called the reconciliation bill, will really become almost irrelevant. I mean, as a very practical matter, there isn’t really going to be a lot of people who really care whether it passes or not because they will have already gotten their massive bill through and it will be law.
Later in the interview, Gregg further contradicted his previous claims that reconciliation would be used as “an entire rewrite of the health care system of America.” “Even if they did something else, it would be at the margins. I mean it’s not going to dramatically impact what is this huge bill that will then be law,” said Gregg. Listen here:
THOMPSON: Let’s get right down to it. This reconciliation issue. It seems to me like there’s of course a lot of talk for a while there of reconciliation being so important and it’s obviously a cram down, it’s never been used in this way before. But now you’re having talk that well, it’s not all that important. The real issue is whether or not the House is going to pass the Senate bill, the one that the Senate has already passed. Which is bad news enough for those who are concerned about what the president’s trying to do. But that after they pass that bill, then they’ll try to do reconciliation, which will just be kind of odds and ends, so, reconciliation as such is not that important. Which one is it?
GREGG: Well, you’re absolutely right Fred. We don’t want to take our eye off the big enchillada so to say, which is this massive bill that passed the Senate, 2.5 trillion dollars of new government, a massive expansion of government into the health care area. Probably cause a lot of people to lose the health insurance they have today. If they like it, even if they do like it, it will raise the cost of small business a lot. And it will add two major new entitlements or expand one and add one to the federal register. So, we’ll end up with a lot of new bills going to our kids in the way of deficits and debt. It’s really a bad piece of fiscal policy. It’s a bad piece of health care policy. People were outraged about it when it passed the Senate and I think they should still be outraged about it. But that’s what the game plan here is. Is to pass that bill, the big bill, and what they’re doing is they’re using this other bill, reconciliation, to basically buy off votes in the House from the more liberal members of the House who want to make this bill even bigger and more intrusive. And when they get those votes and they pass the big bill, that will go down to the president and it will be signed. And this side bill, which is called the reconciliation bill, will really become almost irrelevant. I mean, as a very practical matter, there isn’t really going to be a lot of people who really care whether it passes or not because they will have already gotten their massive bill through and it will be law. The side bill is…
THOMPSON: The only…
GREGG: is coming back to the Senate to be voted on, but, and…
THOMPSON: People who will care, of course, will be those Democrats in the House that wanted through reconciliation to get some additional things done or taken out or what not. But for the American people it doesn’t matter whether or not those guys are disappointed, whether or not the Senate Democrat welch on their deal with their House brethern to do those things in reconciliation. I mean the Senate Democrats can just tell them to go fly a kite. We’ve got the major piece of legislation passed, so, you know, we indicated we might make you happy, but we decided not too and that would be the end of that, right?
GREGG: You’re absolutely right and that’s a perfect description of it. I mean, once you get this big bill through, this incredibly large piece of legislation, the biggest piece of legislation I’ve ever seen. Most intrusive 2,700 pages of new bureaucracy and news spending and new programs of government decisions on how you live your life. Once that’s through there isn’t going to be a whole lot of incentive for senators at least, on the other side of the aisle, my colleagues on the Democratic side to do anything else because they’ll have their bill. But even if they did something else, it would be at the margins. I mean it’s not going to dramatically impact what is this huge bill that will then be law. And remember once it becomes law, once the House of Representatives passes this thing, it’s going to be very hard to change it because even though we’ll do everything we can to repeal it and we’ll spend a lot of time talking about it and every Democrat who voted for it’s going to have to explain that for the next six months up to the election, we’re going to need two-thirds majorities to repeal it because that what it takes to override a presidential veto.