While Republicans are claiming the majority vote on health care reform President Obama called for yesterday constitutes ‘ramming through health care’, reconciliation is part of the normal legislative process–used 22 times over the last 30 years–16 times by Republican-led Senates. And nearly two-thirds of the time, Republican Presidents have signed reconciliation bills. As President Obama said yesterday:
We have debated this issue thoroughly, not just for the past year but for decades. Reform has already passed the House with a majority. It has already passed the Senate with a supermajority of 60 votes. And now it deserves the same kind of up or down vote that was cast on welfare reform, that was cast on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, that was used for COBRA health coverage for the unemployed, and, by the way, for both Bush tax cuts–all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority.
And as Speaker Pelosi pointed out in her weekly press conference today, the simple majority vote would not be used to reform the health care system–just to clear the small improvements to the comprehensive reform bill, which has already passed the Senate with a super-majority, and in a similar form in the House:
This is not about doing health care reform under reconciliation. This is about doing corrections to the Senate bill under reconciliation. The bulk of the bill, 75 to 80 percent of it, is already in the Senate bill. So this is about a small percentage of what is in there.
But don’t take our word for it, see what the press is saying:
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Washington Post: “The Republicans' big lie about reconciliation”
…Republicans, however, don’t want to talk much about the substance of health care. They want to discuss process, turn 'reconciliation' into a four-letter word and maintain that Democrats are 'ramming through' a health bill.
It is all, I am sorry to say, one big lie — or, if you’re sensitive, an astonishing exercise in hypocrisy…
The health-care bill passed the Senate in December with 60 votes under the normal process. The only thing that would pass under a simple majority vote would be a series of amendments that fit comfortably under the 'reconciliation' rules established to deal with money issues…
The underlying 'principle' here seems to be that it’s fine to pass tax cuts for the wealthy on narrow votes but an outrage to use reconciliation to help middle-income and poor people get health insurance…
Cynthia Tucker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “GOP hypocrisy blooms on reconciliation”
The modern Republican Party has but one principle — power — and they have an amazing discipline in their fetish to get it and keep it. They have absolutely no qualms about making themselves look ridiculous by denouncing something (like reconciliation) that they use repeatedly themselves.
McClatchy News: “Here's how 'reconciliation' works in Congress”
Q: Is reconciliation used often?
A: It’s hardly uncommon. It was created by the 1974 Budget Act, and was first used in 1980. Reconciliation has been used successfully 19 times and vetoed three times; 16 times Republican-controlled Senates used it.
It’s been used for major legislation. President George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts were considered this way. So were the 1996 welfare overhaul and the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.
Christian Science Monitor: “Healthcare reform: Obama nudges Congress toward reconciliation”
Reconciliation is a procedure that allows legislation to pass the Senate by a simple majority, not the 60-vote supermajority required to defeat a filibuster. Republicans have sought to tar reconciliation as an extreme 'nuclear option,' but in fact, reconciliation has been used 22 times by both parties since 1980 — including, as Obama noted, to pass President George W. Bush's two tax cuts and President Clinton's welfare reform.
Ezra Klein, Washington Post: “Did Republicans use reconciliation for significantly bipartisan bills?”
Among the odder arguments Republicans are making against the reconciliation process is that the process should only be used for bipartisan bills, and since they refuse to vote for health-care reform, Democrats can’t give their package of fixes an up-or-down vote.
But reconciliation hasn’t been limited to bipartisan bills. Here’s the recent record: The 1995 Balanced Budget Act was passed in reconciliation. The final vote was 52 to 47. The 2001 Bush Tax Cut was passed in reconciliation. The final vote was 58 to 33. The 2003 Bush Tax Cut was passed in reconciliation. The final vote was 50 to 50, with Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote. The 2005 Deficit Reduction Act was also passed in reconciliation with a 50 to 50 vote and a Cheney intervention. The 2006 Tax Relief Extensions Act was passed in reconciliation. The final vote was 54 to 44. This is as you’d expect: If bills had overwhelming bipartisan majorities, they wouldn’t need to go through reconciliation.
Notable uses of reconciliation:
To enact health reforms:
COBRA, the law that lets employees keep their employer's insurance after they leave their jobs, was passed using reconciliation in 1985 and signed into law under Reagan. In fact, the “R” and the “A” in COBRA stand for Reconciliation Act.
SCHIP, the bipartisan State Children's Health Insurance Program, was passed using reconciliation in 1997.
Medicare changes done through reconciliation include: the hospice benefit, HMO preventive care like cancer screenings; added protections for patients in nursing homes; and the way Medicare pays doctors and other health professionals.
The law requiring emergency rooms to screen Medicare and Medicaid patients regardless of ability to pay was part of the 1985 reconciliation measure.
Bush's 2003 economic plan using budget reconciliation passed with 50 votes–and Vice President Cheney broke the tie to make it 51 votes.
Republicans enacted portions of the Contract with America using budget reconciliation.