Friday, September 11, 2009
Reconciliation -- Here Comes the Cram Down
Writing yesterday in The Hill, Sam Youngman lays out the scenario that will be deployed to cram a health care reform bill down the throats of Americans. Despite all your fondest hopes and desires, like it or not, the final bill will be exactly what President Obama ordered.
"Reconciliation" is a legislative process in the Senate that has been used historically in budget bills. It was adopted to move the tangled negotiations over budgets more expeditiously through the Senate. Filibusters became so commonplace (remember "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?") that the Senate in its infinite wisdom self-imposed the 60-vote rule to break up the long-held tradition that tended to kill proposed bills by the minority party. Now under the reconciliation process, if invoked, rather than mounting the required 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority, only a simple 51-vote majority will be needed.
Despite the outcry from at least half the Americans in town hall meetings this summer over the way the health care reform is being slapped together with virtually every proposed amendment by the Republicans being outvoted along party lines in every committee's version of the bills, there will be a final bill passed with only token opposition. Majority rules.
I've seen this all done before, when an excise tax of 100% was proposed to be levied against charities that owned life insurance policies on their donors. It was an attempt by Congress to curtail fraudulent practices that had crept into the charitable gifting arena. We lobbied long and hard against that bill that morphed many times before that provision was finally eliminated from what later became the "Pension Reform Act of 2006" through reconciliation. Watching it all up close and personal, I've never liked sausage since.
Reports persist as late as this morning that the whip counts in both houses of Congress fall short of the required number to pass the legislation, but do not be deceived. The votes will be bought and paid for in the House among the so-called "blue-dog Democrats," who will fold like a cheap wallet when their pet pork barrel projects are funded.
When that bill, whatever form it takes, passes in the House, then it will be on to the Senate. All proposed spending bills must originate in the House, oh, except for that TARP legislation that violated that basic Constitutional requirement when the first version failed in the House. But that's a story for another day. The Senate is cobbling together its version of health care reform right now, and it's reportedly being worked out in the backrooms of the Senate Finance Committee with the "gang of six," including Senator Mike Enzy (R) Wyoming. Enzi, the only Senator who is a CPA, when asked about it yesterday flatly stated he hasn't seen any numbers yet to indicate how it's all going to be paid for. He's openly mystified. He couldn't even venture an opinion on whether it's a sound idea or not. Whatever form that bill takes, look for it to be passed along party lines in the Senate Finance Committee. Then it will go to the Senate floor for a vote. If it fails to achieve the 60-vote majority needed, then look for the reconciliation procedure to be put swiftly into place.
The House version and the Senate version will then be "reconciled" in a committee appointed by leaders in both Houses dominated by the majority party and a sham victory will be proclaimed (assuming 51 votes in the Senate can be mustered). I said the other night that President Obama's speech to the joint session was nothing more than good political theater, and that's all it is.
President Obama seems steeled in his resolve to cram this bill down everyone's throats. After all, he knows what's best for America. Before this raucous, emotional debate is over, the most sweeping entitlement program in the history of the United States of America will become the law of the land by Thanksgiving by skirting around the Senate rules yet again. It was done with TARP when the Republicans were in charge, and it will be done again by the Democrats with health care reform. That's why sausage just doesn't taste as good anymore -- I've watched how it's made.
Then the ultimate arbiters -- the American voters -- will finally have a chance to weigh in, but not until 2010. Congress is currently carrying a 41% disapproval rating in the latest polls, an all-time high. If the voters love the new health care law, the mid-term elections of 2010 will be a triumph for Democrats. If they hate it, the Republicans will be back in power. The stakes couldn't be higher on all fronts.