I have seen any number of people justify this action, good people, who believe the lines being fed them by Obama and the Democratic leadership about using this option, claiming the Republicans used it before, even equating getting Obamacare passed this way as comparable to how Social Security and Medicare were passed. Those comparisons are simply false:
Leave aside the irony of invoking "the American people" on behalf of a bill that consistently has been 10 to 15 points underwater in every poll since the fall, and is getting more unpopular by the day, particularly among independents. As Maine Republican Olympia Snowe pointed out in a speech last December, Social Security passed when Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House, yet 64% of Senate Republicans and 79% of the House GOP voted for it. More than half of the Senate Republican caucus voted for Medicare in 1965. Historically, major social legislation has always been bipartisan, because it reflects a durable political consensus.
Yet, these false comparisons continue, on a daily basis it seems.
While that is important to make clear, it is not my main point here. My point is about this man: Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat, of West Virginia. Specifically, I want to share Senator Byrd's response to using a budgetary process to force such a massive program on us. Who cares what Senator Byrd says, you query? Well, he is one of the creators of Reconciliation, and oh, does he have something to say about usage of Reconciliation being threatened now (the following is from April 29, 2009):
Statement on FY 2010 Budget Resolution
“I like this budget. I support many of the policies that the President’s budget embraces – including middle-class tax relief, and badly needed investments in our nation’s infrastructure – but I cannot, and I will not, vote to authorize the use of the reconciliation process to expedite passage of health care reform legislation or any other legislative proposal that ought to be debated at length by this body.”
“Using reconciliation to ram through complicated, far-reaching legislation is an abuse of the budget process. ((Emphasis mine) The writers of the Budget Act, and I am one, never intended for its reconciliation’s expedited procedures to be used this way. These procedures were narrowly tailored for deficit reduction. They were never intended to be used to pass tax cuts, or to create new Federal regimes. Additionally, reconciliation measures must comply with Section 313 of the Budget Act, known as the Byrd Rule, which means that whatever health legislation is reported from the Finance Committee or legislation from any other Committee that is shoe-horned into reconciliation will sunset after five years. Additionally, numerous other non-budgetary provisions of any such legislation will have to be omitted under reconciliation. This is a very messy way to achieve a goal like health care reform, and one that will make crafting the legislation more difficult.”
“Whatever abuses of the budget reconciliation process which have occurred in the past, or however many times the process has been twisted to achieve partisan ends does not justify the egregious violation done to the Senate’s Constitutional purpose. The Senate has a unique institutional role.” (Emphasis mine)
I know, I know - Senator Byrd completely went against the will of the people of his state (along with Senator Jay Rockefeller) when he threw his support to Obama rather than the one, Clinton, his people overwhelmingly chose. But STILL - this is important. What he is saying is important. It paints a picture in bold relief that for the Democrats to pull this kind of maneuver is an "Abuse of Power." Coming from the longest serving senator, who has been through a lot of Administrations and Congresses, that is saying something. He continues:
“It is the one place in all of government where the rights of the numerical minority are protected. As long as the Senate preserves the right to debate and the right to amend we hold true to our role as the Framers envisioned. We were to be the cooling off place where proposals could be examined carefully and debated extensively, so that flaws might be discovered and changes might be made. Remember, Democrats will not always control this chamber, the House of Representatives or the White House. The worm will turn. Some day the other party will again be in the majority, and we will want minority rights to be shielded from the bear trap of the reconciliation process.”
That reminds me of this quote by Joe Biden on the Reconciliation process: "and I pray God that when the Democrats take back control we don't make the kind of naked power grab you are doing." Sorry, Joe - either the Democrats aren't listening to you, or God isn't. Guess where my money is.
Back to Byrd's statement:
“Under reconciliation’s gag rule there are twenty hours of debate or less if time is yielded back, and little or no opportunity to amend. Those restrictions mean that whatever is nailed into reconciliation by the majority will likely emerge as the final product. With critical matters such as a massive revamping of our health care system which will impact the lives of every citizen of our great land, the Senate has a duty to debate and amend and explain in the full light of day, however long that may take, what it is we propose, and why we propose it. The citizens who sent us here deserve that explanation and they should demand it. We must not run roughshod over minority views. A minority can be right. An amendment can vastly improve legislation. Debate can expose serious flaws. Ramrodding and railroading have no place when it comes to such matters as our people’s healthcare. The President came to the White House promising a bipartisan government because he knew how sick and tired the American public is of scorched earth politics. I daresay President Obama should not be in favor of the destruction of the institutional purpose of this Senate in which he served any more than he would bless a rigged psuedo-debate on healthcare, completely absent minority input.” (Again, emphasis mine)
“While I support the admirable budget priorities outlined in this resolution, I cannot and will not condone legislation that puts political expediency ahead of the time-honored purpose of this institution.”
Reconciliation is not the answer, never was. But that Obama and the Democrats are even considering it speaks volumes about the plan, Obama, and the Democrats, especially Nancy Pelosi, who had the audacity to say this:
"They know that this will take courage," Nancy Pelosi said in an interview over the weekend, speaking of the Members she'll try to strong-arm. "It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare," the Speaker continued. "But the American people need it, why are we here? We're not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress." .
One can only hope, and pray, that cooler heads will indeed prevail. One can only hope that the will of the people will ultimately triumph, and that this plan goes back to the drawing board where it belongs. One can only hope that the eyes of people, good, usually reasonable, people, will see this ploy for what it is. A purely political, ego-driven, lobby pandering, 1/6th of our economy government run plan opposed by the majority of Americans.
Perhaps Nancy and Barack should pay more attention to their elder statesman, who actually helped write the damn Reconciliation thing.
It is, in short, an Abuse of Power: 'An undemocratic disservice to our people and to the Senate's institutional role.' Couldn't have said it better myself.