How Many Times Can One Say “Reconciliation”?

I don’t know, but it looks like I’m going to set the record for trying.

Brian Beutler reports today that Congressional Dems are giving up on a jobs bill this year.  What’s more, they don’t seem to understand their own rules:

“Look at what we had to go through for the last eight weeks,” said Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley. “The fact is that we have a Republican party that’s betting on this President to fail. We’ll continue to look at additional efforts to provide help for the economy but the fact is in this heavily polarized Senate, it’s very difficult to get stuff done.”

You.  Don’t.  Need.  Sixty.  #$^&$ing.  Votes.  To.  Pass.  A.  Reconciliation.  Bill.

Even The Shrill One can’t seem to figure this out.  He says, “I wish I had something constructive to propose.”  Uh, Professor: you do.

Maybe Senate Dems don’t want to pass one.  We already know that House Dems can’t seem to muster the votes for a budget resolution.  We also know that Kent Conrad is a piece of crap, (see, most recently, here and here, part 3) which makes going through the budget difficult.  But this is sheer obfuscation.

It would be really nice if the President would knock some heads together on this.  But on this page, apparently I’m not allowed to criticize him. 

So I’ll just say, wouldn’t it be great if, say, there were a national party leader, perhaps elected by the whole people, who is a superb public speaker and has a lot of political weapons at his disposal, who might go into complete campaign mode now?

Comments

  1. NCG says

    Dude — totally.

    I understand the deficit phobia, I really do.

    So, let's cut that military budget!!! Are you with me, people? I'm sorry but I know there's gotta be some waste, fraud and abuse in there. It's just so … big.

    We don't need more fancy weaponry, we need to get smarter. And we need more women (who are not me) to run for office.

  2. Curmudgeon says

    Once again, we see that the primary objective for the Democratic party is to fail spectacularly in order to put as many Republicans in office as possible, just as God and Reagan intended.

    The Democratic party doesn't want to provide effective governance. It wants to keep the DC village happy. Keeping the village happy means keeping Republicans in control.

  3. NCG says

    Gosh but that was fun. And I saved 88c.

    Does anyone know if they listen more if you use snail mail?

  4. Da Maverick says

    Ha! So you can criticize the California Coastal Commission in the LA Times but you won't dare criticize the President on this blog? Damn Mark, I guess I wasn't the only one intimidated by your beard and your cold steely eyes.

  5. NCG says

    Besides, what we ought to be trashing the administration about is the deportation of non-violent undocumented people.

    It is window-dressing and pandering to people who will never be satisfied anyway — ie, the right wing.

    I don't mind if the President wants to keep trying to talk to them — after all, that is sort of his job.

    But he shouldn't let it change what he actually does. That's the difference, and the mistake I think he's making.

  6. Greg says

    "Does anyone know if they listen more if you use snail mail?"

    The medium doesn't matter that much. What matters most is whether you are writing your own words or whether you're just signing an online petition or a postcard. If you're just providing assent to someone else's campaign that's less significant than if you're moving yourself to act.

  7. Suzii says

    NCG: Yes, they do pay more attention to snail mail, as long as it's not one of those preprinted postcards, but since the anthrax attacks of 2001, it can take months for a letter to get through. A handwritten (but legible) fax may be your best bet.

    On the other hand, don't count on any single message to make a huge difference. Unless it's written on the back of a $50 bill.

  8. Mark Kleiman says

    If there's a viable tactic that Obama isn't using, then I'm all for criticizing him for not using it. And I assume that Jonathan knows the budget rules, so I assume he's right that Obama and the Congression Dems have missed a trick. But there's all the difference in the world between saying "I wish Obama were pursuing more vigorous tactics" and saying "Obama is a wimp and a sell-out and voting for Democrats is a waste of time."

  9. Johnny Canuck says

    I just observe from north of the border but:

    1. doesn't reconciliation have to already be in the budget resolution;

    and 2 doesn't it have to reduce the deficit.

    What is your great idea that Obama is missing?

  10. says

    I think the Canuck is right. Someone somewhere has already addressed this on one of the many blogs I read–reconciliation is not an option in this instance.

  11. Kevin Elliott says

    The problem isn't parliamentary rules but rather strong countervailing incentives. The Dems know that macroeconomically the economy needs a shot in the arm to keep the recovery from stalling, but they also know that additional big headline spending is going to alienate a lot of voters, especially independents who care about the deficit a lot. It is a line the Repubs can scream about to great political effect.

    And since the crisis of 2008 has largely passed, during which most people give the Dems a pass on the stimulus, there is not now any general sense of urgency to outweigh concern about the deficit in the public.

  12. Rich C says

    Canuck is right and Jonathan is wrong. In order to pass a reconciliation bill, you need to have a reconciliation instruction in the budget resolution for that fiscal year. I believe, though I'm not quite sure, that you can have up to three reconciliation bills per budget resolution. But whether or not that's right, the reconciliation instructions from the FY2010 budget were used to do the patch on health care reform, and the House is apparently unable to pass a budget resolution before the mid-terms (Hoyer has suggested that it would pass one after the deficit commission reports). So that's the problem: with no budget resolution, there's no reconciliation instruction, and thus no reconciliation bill. However (this is what I would wish Jonathan would be griping about), the 1974 budget act provides that Congress can adopt up to 2 budget resolutions per fiscal year. Thus, Congress could pass a budget resolution right now that contains nothing but reconciliation instructions, and use those instructions to pass a jobs bill (extend unemployment benefits, increase federal share of medicaid, extend ARRA aid to states, expand EITC, extend and expand emergency TANF fund which is the WPA program that everyone is looking for but no one seems to know about). That would be a really good thing! I suppose Kent Conrad would be a pain in the ass their too, but at least is a plat that conforms with the law, and doesn't require Senate Democrats to be rational and just kill the filibuster.

  13. Jonathan Zasloff says

    Canuck and KathyF –

    You are right that reconciliation has to be in the budget resolution, but that's why, you know, there needs to be a budget resolution. If the Senate passed one, it would give the House the incentive to pass its own.

    It doesn't need to reduce the deficit; that's what I thought, too, but I was wrong. It just has to "reconcile" the spending and appropriations bills.

    And Mark, you're setting up a straw man here: NO ONE writes for this page says that we shouldn't vote for Democrats. We're saying that maybe Obama should do some things to increase turnout, and knock heads together to get Congress on board. Krugman is right: Obama has never made the case for why Reaganism is wrong. That's a problem.

  14. Bernard Yomtov says

    Kevin Elliott,

    The Dems know that macroeconomically the economy needs a shot in the arm to keep the recovery from stalling, but they also know that additional big headline spending is going to alienate a lot of voters, especially independents who care about the deficit a lot. It is a line the Repubs can scream about to great political effect.

    And since the crisis of 2008 has largely passed, during which most people give the Dems a pass on the stimulus, there is not now any general sense of urgency to outweigh concern about the deficit in the public.

    When did the crisis pass?

    I think the objections you raise are exactly what I and others are complaining about. "Let's not do it because the Republicans will scream and we'll lose votes." We're losing votes as it is. Part of politics – a big part – is not to let the other guys scream unopposed. That sets the agenda. That lets them write op-eds and go on Sunday shows and act grave and serious about the deficit and how cutting investment bankers' taxes is the key to recovery.

    Scream back. We've got 10% unemployment, for Pete's sake, (more if you couht discouraged workers and part-timers who want full-time jobs) and we can't dominate the discussion?

  15. Sebastian H says

    You don't need sixty votes in the Senate either. You just need the will to make Republicans look foolish over a real filibuster instead of always letting them get away with merely threatening it. Here I hate flogging my own links but really. The reason filibusters are common is because both sides have let them become *easy*. Pick something worth fighting over, make it hard to filibuster, plaster the idiots all over you-tube, make commercials of Republicans filibustering and say "this is how Republicans want to fix the economy, by forcing the Senate into endless roll call votes. I don't think that is the best way forward, vote for me."

  16. piminnowcheez says

    wouldn’t it be great if, say, there were a national party leader, perhaps elected by the whole people, who is a superb public speaker and has a lot of political weapons at his disposal, who might go into complete campaign mode now?

    This really gets to the heart of my own gripe with Obama. I do give him all credit due for the policy victories that the dems have passed so far, and I don't think he's a wimp and a sell-out. But it's so disheartening to have a president this charismatic, this intelligent and eloquent, who seems uninterested in doing the most powerful thing, long-term, that he could do: reshape the political narrative in this country away from the form Ronald Reagan left it in. I remember talk before the election that Obama could be the left's Reagan, and it's clearly true that he *could* be, he's capable of it. But he doesn't do it. Argh.

  17. J. Michael Neal says

    Sebastian, they passed rules changes in 1974 that make it extremely hard for a majority to force what we think of as a real filibuster. The price of reducing the votes needed for cloture from 67 to 60 was precisely that it became easy to use the filibuster. The quorum rules now in place would force at least 50 senators in favor of cloture at all times (which generally lets out Ben Nelson, and quite possibly a few other Dems in specific instances), while there would need to be only one senator opposed. If the number of senators on the floor ever fell to 50, the one member opposed could make an immediate quorum call, and the lack of a quorum would mean that the Senate would officially adjourn.

    This isn't the only rule that makes it hard to force a real filibuster. For instance, no one actually has to get up and keep talking to hold the floor; there is now no way to force that, the other side just has to prevent a cloture motion from passing. The largest reason Harry Reid doesn't force one is not that he's a wimp. It's that there's no way he could get 49 other Senators to go along with the idea that they have to be on the floor at all times, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    "Forcing a real filibuster" is another one of those liberal fantasies that evaporates if one takes the time to learn what's really involved. I really wish people would stop bringing it up.

  18. J. Michael Neal says

    I remember talk before the election that Obama could be the left’s Reagan, and it’s clearly true that he *could* be, he’s capable of it. But he doesn’t do it. Argh.

    No, he is not capable of it. That's simply not the person he is. It's not just that this was perfectly apparent back during the campaign, but it's an absolutely essential part of his character. Otherwise, he'd never have gotten elected.

    The first black man elected to the Presidency had to be one that avoided confrontation at a pathological level. That's the only way he could escape the "angry black man" label, which would have killed his viability. The funny thing is that lots of people commented on this facet of Obama's personality during the campaign, but most of them didn't take the next step and realize the implications of what they were saying. I think a hell of a lot of people voted for a politician that they never took the time to understand.

    I voted for Obama, and have gotten pretty much what I expected. There are some very frustrating aspects of his character, but they haven't surprised me. I also think that many of those things that are frustrating have some very positive aspects that go hand in hand with them. I'm not at all sure that a more forceful, confrontational Barack Obama would have gotten as much done as the real one. It's easy to project additional virtues onto a person with the false assumption that they could be added without reducing the virtues he actually possesses. It's fun to play the ceteris parabis game, but it doesn't work that way.

  19. J. Michael Neal says

    You are right that reconciliation has to be in the budget resolution, but that’s why, you know, there needs to be a budget resolution. If the Senate passed one, it would give the House the incentive to pass its own.

    Recognizing this undercuts the force of your original argument. How do you just go into campaign mode and, essentially, call out the members of your own party as cowards for not wanting to pass a budget resolution. If the argument is about filibustering, it's possible to make the case the the Republicans are the problem. End of story. Once you start getting into the things that have to happen before reconciliation can be used, he would trample on that simple message. What you want Obama to do doesn't really resemble the narrative you present.

  20. Sebastian H says

    "The quorum rules now in place would force at least 50 senators in favor of cloture at all times (which generally lets out Ben Nelson, and quite possibly a few other Dems in specific instances), while there would need to be only one senator opposed. If the number of senators on the floor ever fell to 50, the one member opposed could make an immediate quorum call, and the lack of a quorum would mean that the Senate would officially adjourn."

    You have 59 Senators. Take 3 or 4 days out of your schedule and do it.

    "This isn’t the only rule that makes it hard to force a real filibuster. For instance, no one actually has to get up and keep talking to hold the floor; there is now no way to force that, the other side just has to prevent a cloture motion from passing."

    No. This is incorrect. A cloture vote is only necessary if a Senator present, who has not spoken twice before already, wishes to continue debate and immediately speak. If there is no such Senator present, and you have a quorum, the vote may happen immediately.

    So:

    1) Get 51-59 Democratic Senators in the Senate

    2) Call a vote for unemployment benefits

    3) Republican obstructer wants to continue debate

    4) Check to see if he has spoken twice already, if not immediately give him the floor

    5) When he is done go to step 2.

    No cloture vote is necessary so long as you maintain a quorum willing to immediately vote on the bill.

    All the scenarios where this turns out bad for the Democrats involve every single Republican Senator being willing to risk looking like a complete tool NOT through their voting, but rather through giving inane hours-long speeches that you can immediately use for press coverage and youtube videos. And it involves the Republicans not looking stupid while they do it.

    Now there may be some number of Senators who will do that, but it certainly isn't anything like 49.

    The only reason you get 49 against cloture is because it is virtually costless–they don't have to actively do anything other than vote no. Make them actively do things before you start complaining that it is irretriveably broken.

  21. NCG says

    I agree with Sebastian: this shouldn't be too much to ask of a senator. They asked for the job.

    I wonder though if it wouldn't make more sense to try for more than just extended UI? There are all kinds of people suffering.

    And since you're all a bunch of smarty-pants, *does* anyone know how to create a bigger, stronger middle class? The last stimulus bill didn't sound all that ambitious to me. Could we get some kind of overall strategy? Or, would this be like throwing an elbow on one issue, and maybe there'd be less GOP nonsense afterward? (But when has that ever happened? One thing I admire about GOP pols, they have absolutely no shame.)

  22. Anonymous says

    Michael Neal, I suppose we just disagree here. A President can 1) travel around the country accusing the GOP of blocking popular things, and 2) come back to Washington and knock heads together and say this absolutely must happen, and I'm going to make sure that it does. Obviously, he can't be in two places at once, but staying on message doesn't mean you can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

    By "campaign mode" I meant consistently calling out Republicans AS Republicans, making speeches all over the country, using every opportunity he has with the Democratic caucuses (which is substantial). It doesn't mean trashing your own party. He can't get Republicans in the Senate to do what he wants, but he CAN get 51 Democrats in the Senate to do what he wants, mainly because they want it, too.

  23. Matt says

    1) Get 51-59 Democratic Senators in the Senate

    2) Call a vote for unemployment benefits

    3) Republican obstructer wants to continue debate

    4) Check to see if he has spoken twice already, if not immediately give him the floor

    5) When he is done go to step 2.

    Assuming this is all correct (and I'm sure it is, but wow, this stuff gets complicated fast), I think I still see a problem.

    If Reid can exercise the discipline to keep all his troops on the floor for a given length of time, it's reasonable to assume that the GOP can exercise similar discipline. And if that's so, then 40 senators x 2 hours of speech x 2 bites at the speaking apple ÷ the number of hours in a typical legislative week for the Senate (roughly 12-15, not counting committees) = a hell of a long time. Even if you re-jigger the calendar, it still wouldn't be that hard to talk a thing to death, going by these premises.

    Now as it happens, I think that's what Reid ought to do EVERY time a purely obstructionist stalling tactic comes up, but you can't start playing that game 90% of the way into the session.

  24. Sebastian H says

    I don't believe that it is reasonable to assume that the GOP will be able to get 40 senators to actually do a real filibuster over any semi-popular bill. Voting is one thing. Standing and making a fool of yourself for you-tube or the news at 10 is another thing entirely. On the unemployment bill, how many centrist votes will Republicans pick up that way? Any votes in play at all are going to be turned off by the Republicans doing that.

  25. Rich C says

    Sebastian,

    I'm sympathetic to the view you're expressing: however tough breaking a filibuster via attrition is on the majority, its a lot better than putting up with endless filibusters. Still, I think a deeper underlying problem here has been the unwillingness of any Democratic senator to challenge the appropriateness of filibusters on either motions to proceed or ending debate prior to final consideration via rulings from the presiding officer. This is the starting point for the "nuclear option" via which the GOP threatened to halt filibusters of federal court nominees in 2005. Even in the procedure fails (you arrange that the presiding officer will rule in your favor, but your motion to table the subsequent "appeal from the chair" fails), we would get a sense of who in the Democratic caucus is willing to a return to majority rule and political survival. That in turn gives constituents the opportunity to demand that their senators vote in favor of breaking the filibuster the next time around. In principle, you can do this every time to the minority objects to a motion to proceed or end debate, and over time build toward a majority vote to set new precedents compatible with majority rule.

  26. Sebastian H says

    The thing is that Democrats are analyzing it as a procedural problem and looking to procedural counter-games to deal with it. But the public doesn't care about procedural counter-games. Campaigning on "I tried to get the presiding officer to rule that certain filibusters were out of order" is not a winning plan. It just convinces moderate voters who don't immerse themselves in arcana that no Senator really gives a rat's ass about them.

    Campaigning on "I tried to get unemployment benefits passed, during the worst recession since world war II, but those Republicans stood up and babbled for 5 days when they already KNEW we had a 58% majority and kept us from doing any other work to help America out and here is the video…" is a little different.

    And what's more, Republicans know it is different too, so you wont' get very many of them actually doing it if it comes down to it.