Joke of the Day: Budget Reconciliation and Health Reform

Republicans threaten that Democratic efforts to use budget reconciliation for health reform will make them “incensed” and will refuse to cooperate. In other news, Joseph Stalin has said “no more Mr. Nice Guy.” Besides, the GOP is wrong on the law.

Finally, finally, people are beginning to see the possibilities for using budget reconciliation as a means to get health care reform — a strategy I’ve been advocating for close to a month now. Which is what makes this little nugget from Carl Hulse’s NYT piece today so humorous:

Because Republicans would most likely be so incensed that Democrats were trying to force through a sweeping health plan by simple majority vote, they would no doubt challenge many elements of the bill and could strip them out.

“Most of the big public policy stuff, which is really important, would not survive the Byrd Rule,” said Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the senior Republican on the Budget Committee and someone who could be counted on to use his expertise to make reconciliation as difficult as possible for Democrats.

I’m not sure what is funnier about this: the threat of Republicans becoming “incensed” at Democratic efforts to use reconciliation, or the assertion that they could simply “strip out” provisions.

First, Republicans threatening to become “incensed” about Democratic use of reconciliation is similar to Joseph Stalin saying, “okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy.” They have refused to cooperate on anything since becoming the minority in 2006.

Second, Republicans cannot simply “strip out” anything from a reconciliation resolution. They must make a motion that such provisions are non-germane. And that motion will be ruled on by the chair, otherwise known as Vice President Joe Biden. Kent Conrad’s assertions the Senate parliamentarian rules on these motions are either the product of ignorance or self-serving mendacity (i.e. he doesn’t want health reform and is making up patently false procedural objections).

The usually excellent Mark Schmitt appears to buy into the Republican spin on this, for reasons that are unintelligible to me. Perhaps Mark is right on his analysis of the rule, but since he provides no justification for his reading, I have to stick with my reading. I’m happy to be corrected on this, but so far I see no evidence that I am wrong.

The real issue with reconciliation and health reform is whether enough Democrats can hold together to sustain Biden’s ruling. Now, that presents a risk to them, because someone will argue that “when the Republicans come back into a majority with the President, then they will do the same thing.” This is also laughable.

1) The Republicans will do this anyway. If there is one thing that is obvious over the last few years, it is that Democratic forbearance is seen as a sign of weakness.

2) It will be much more likely for Republicans to come back into power if the Democrats cannot enact reform due to weakness and fecklessness.

Bottom line, yet again: reconciliation can be used for health care reform. The time is now.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.