Kent Conrad is a Piece of Crap

Not much else to say, really.

I know, I know: I’m an academic.  I shouldn’t say such thing.  But what else are you going to do when things like this happen:

The Senate Democrats’ top budget guy told reporters today that the Senate can’t pass a reconciliation package tweaking a comprehensive health care bill unless the House passes the Senate bill first. And if the House won’t do that, he says health care reform is “dead.”

“The only way this works is for the House to pass the Senate bill and then, depending on what the package is, the reconciliation provision that moves first through the House and then comes here,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) outside the upper chamber this morning. “That’s the only way that works.”

I pointed out that House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has repeatedly insisted they won’t take a flier on a reconciliation package–that they will only pass the Senate bill after the smaller side-car reconciliation bill has been all wrapped up.

“Fine, then it’s dead,” Conrad said.

Conrad added that he wouldn’t personally make any promises or symbolic gestures to House members to assure them that the Senate can or will take any action in a reconciliation bill to address House concerns.

“I don’t sign any blank check,” Conrad said.

One day, when the story of the health care fight is finally written, either with a happy or a sad (or an in-between ending), Conrad will turn out to be the biggest villain, at least on the Democratic.  it was Conrad who dragged out the Gang of Six negotiations.  It was Conrad who blocked using reconciliation for health care last year.  And now, it’s Conrad who is trying to block the last, best hope for the Democratic Party’s signature policy issue over the past seven decades.

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.

21 thoughts on “Kent Conrad is a Piece of Crap”

  1. Conrad won't sign blank checks, but insists the House should.

    So when can we get rid of the CA / NY / FL screwing Senate?

  2. The fact is that reconciliation as a tactic is just as much to get around Conrad and his ilk as to get around the filibuster. If you only need 50 votes than the 6 or so Republican leaning Democrats in the senate lose a great deal of their prestige and power. Conrad is terrified that this will happen through reconciliation and would love nothing more than to kill it dead because if it does happen then his influence takes a nose dive. His position as the marginal senator has allowed him to basically rewrite a lot of legislation to his liking but if you only need 51 to make things happen Reid can afford to tell him to suck wind and find someone with a lower price.

  3. What if he's right? What if, in fact, reconciliation can't be used to amend a bill which hasn't been passed yet? Then who's the villain?

  4. Then the Parliamentarian might rule for whoever raises the objection (Conrad would be enough of a jerk to do it or would he defer to a Republican). Biden would overrule and 50 votes would seal the deal that Conrad was wrong. Done deal and Conrad would still be a jerk AND wrong.

  5. elliottg: That would effectively eliminate the filibuster, you realize? When Republicans returned to power, they could use the same tactic to allow every bill to go through reconciliation. The filibuster may need to be abolished, I don't know, but I'm pretty sure neither Obama nor Biden want that at this moment, and especially not in that way. Biden overruling the parliamentarian _would_, in fact, be the "nuclear option".

  6. Perhaps…here's what I think Conrad is saying: a reconciliation fix can only pass procedural muster after the House passes the Senate bill as is. This may or may not be true, I don't know. Harry Reid was saying the same thing a while back, and I think he is in a better position to know the truth than Pelosi, since IIRC he has been in conversations with the Senate parliamentarian. Anyway, if this is in fact true, and the House *still* continues to stick its collective fingers in its collective ears and demand the Senate act first, then I believe that the House is the villain here. And Pelosi its leader.

    Oh, I see, Conrad is even refusing to commit to the "pledge" portion of "pledge and pass". That is pretty bad. Though I believe that there will be closer to 59 eventual "pledgers" than 50.

  7. I will add that if I am wrong about the parliamentary roadblocks, I would still prefer the House pass the Senate bill as is as soon as possible. If the last two months have shown us anything, it's that the composition of the Congress can change at any time. Let's use the votes while we have them.

  8. If the Senator means to state a procedural rule that the Senate is obliged to follow, & not just express political opposition, what could the rule be? Isn't it a trivial matter to restate legislative language amending a bill in words that don't explicitly refer to the other bill?

  9. All bills authorizing spending must originate in the House. That's a constitutional requirement. So to the extent that what would go through the Senate process is a separate legislative enactment that spends money, it has to originate in the House. This in itself is not nefarious, though it is vastly ironic when you think about it. Personally, I think the House should just refuse to reauthorize some gigantic spending bill, like agricultural, or target southern and midwestern states for vastly reduced subsidies, or my favorite, eliminate funding for the Bath Iron Works as a direct slap at Snowe and Collins. If the House wanted to, it could put more pressure on the Senate.

  10. Jonathan, at this point I feel that there is a large faction in the Dem senate who really, really, really don't want healthcare reform to pass (they would like healthcare 'reform', like the Medicare Part D bill).

    The game they are playing is Rotating Villain. One senator will object to one thing, and then another to another thing. For example, Rockefeller (W. Va) was b*tching about reconciliation. I don't recall him doing squat when the Bush II admininstration used reconciliation, but now he's standing up like he's got a pair. Now it's Conrad; before it was Bayh, Nelson, and Lieberman.

    One big problem with the 'big tent' approach is that people aren't always 'in the tent and pissing out'; they're 'in the tent and pissing in'. Right now the Democratic senate has several senators who are just as happy with being Republican as being Democratic; they're only Democratic right now because it gives them more privileges.

  11. You could make a plausible case, though, that it's Nancy Pelosi who's trying to block the last, best hope for the Democratic Party’s signature policy issue over the past seven decades. If it's really that important, she should be willing to take the flier and pass the Senate bill, right?

  12. Floyd, that's assuming that she has the House votes. At this point, she's probably facing two problems – there are those on the right of the allegedly Dem caucus who won't vote for it at all, and those on the left who are f*cking pissed at being jerked around for the last year. After a year of ConservaDems senators doing as they please, morale and discipline have both got to be running low.

  13. But if health care reform is really so important as to be the signature policy issue of the party, why should Conrad or Lieberman's actions lead liberal House members to vote against it? That doesn't make any sense. It's easy to use them as scapegoats, but ultimately, if those right-leaning Democrats are really so out of step with the party, health care reform should be easy to pass in the House. Any congressman who believes in the importance of the bill but who votes against it because s/he is tired of being jerked around would be guilty of a self-importance excessive even by congressional standards.

  14. PainterWoman, not to be a logic nazi, but your use of ad hominem appears misplaced. This is a common mistake, but ad hominem refers to the use of a personal attack to prove an argument, right? So as long as Jonathan wasn't saying that Kent Conrad is wrong BECAUSE he is a piece of crap*, he's merely stating his opinion.

    Now, whether or not the tone is appealing is certainly up for debate. I personally prefer my personal attacks a bit more witty, although Jonathan could be using such a mundane phrase as a sort of self-parody, which could score some points for irony.

  15. IIRC, 'ad hominem' means refuting somebody's argument by using irrelevant personal attacks.

    Saying 'don't trust her statements about the law because she's a woman' is an ad hominem.

    Saying 'don't trust her statements about the law because she's the attorney for the other side in this case', or '….because she's been proven to have lied before about such things' is not an ad hominem.

  16. True Barry, but that's only for arguments in which the person's character is relevant at all? In the case of the lawyer, her character might be relevant. But ad hominem attacks are also often used to disprove an entirely unrelated argument.

    Listeners of talk radio seem to have a high tolerance for this sort of thing. Government run health care is inefficient because Obama wants to take over the government!

    Or, from my side of the aisle, tea partiers are racists, therefore tax cuts are bad for the economy!

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