Congressional Scholars Agree There’s Nothing Outrageous About Majority Rules in the Senate

Norman Ornstein, Thomas Mann, and Molly Reynolds have an excellent piece in The New Republic making the point that complaints about the evils of using the budget reconciliation process to pass major legislation such as health care reform are totally bogus:


Reconciliation was designed as a narrow procedure to bring revenue and direct spending under existing laws into conformity with the levels set in the annual budget resolution. It was used initially to cut the budget deficit by increasing revenues or decreasing spending but in more recent years its primary purpose has been to reduce taxes. Twenty-two reconciliation bills were passed between 1980 and 2008, although three (written by Republican majorities in Congress) were vetoed by President Clinton and never became law.

Whether reducing or increasing deficits, many of the reconciliation bills made major changes in policy. Health insurance portability (COBRA), nursing home standards, expanded Medicaid eligibility, increases in the earned income tax credit, welfare reform, the state Children’s Health Insurance Program, major tax cuts and student aid reform were all enacted under reconciliation procedures. Health reform 2009 style would be the most ambitious use of reconciliation but it fits a pattern used over three decades by both parties to avoid the strictures of Senate filibusters.

As they point out, there are other aspects of the reconciliation process that make it a less-than-ideal venue for passing health care reform. But it’s a superior alternative to not passing health care reform or to passing a bill called “health care reform” that failes to make substantial progress on key issues. One hopes that enough bipartisan cooperation will exist to be able to avoid a reconciliation scenario, but cooperation seems unlikely to be forthcoming absent a credible threat to move forward on a majority vote.

Meanwhile, it would be strongly preferable to do away with the inevitable hypocrisy involved in the minority-of-the-day always arguing for a narrow use of reconciliation and the majority-of-the-day arguing for a broad use. The thing to do is to find away to eliminate the filibuster. We could also do away with the unfortunate linkage of majority voting to the other aspects of the reconciliation process. There’s no good reason to think that a 60 vote supermajority requirement serves the national interest.