National Review's web site leads with a column by Heritage Foundation's Michael Franc opposing the use of reconciliation to pass changes to health care reform. Unfortunately, Franc's column is deeply disingenuous, from the one-word headline ("Unprecedented") that manages to be false despite its brevity to the closing sentence, in which Franc demonstrates that his objection to the use of the tactic is utterly unprincipled.
Franc begins by referring to reconciliation as "arcane," which is a spectacularly loaded term to describe a legislative tactic that has been used to pass some of the highest-profile legislation of the past quarter century, including welfare reform and George W. Bush's tax cuts. Franc goes on:
Senator Reid ... argues that the reconciliation process has been used many times over the last three decades - usually, he claims, at the instigation of Republicans.
"He claims"? Well, is it true? Yes! It is true: "16 of 21 reconciliation bills were Republican." But using the loaded word "claims," Franc falsely implies that Reid wasn't telling the truth. Franc later claims he cannot detect any "pattern" in the use of reconciliation. He should check in with Joshua Tucker.
The Congressional Research Service reports that 19 reconciliation measures have been enacted into law since the procedure's first use in the twilight of the Carter administration. It was attempted, but failed, a couple of times more. Reconciliation has been used for virtually all imaginable scenarios - save one: There is no precedent for using it to enact a once-in-a-generation rewrite of the relationship between Americans and their government that appeals exclusively to one side of the aisle.
Do I really need to point out that this is because "once-in-a-generation" legislation doesn't come along very often? How many times does Franc expect a legislative practice that has been around for little more than 30 years to have been used to enact "once-in-a-generation" legislation?
More broadly, Franc is setting conditions that just don't matter. Reconciliation has never* been used on the third Sunday of the fifth month of the year, either, but who cares? That isn't a legitimate reason not hold a reconciliation vote on May 16; it's just trivia. Likewise, Franc's complaint that the legislation "appeals exclusively to one side of the aisle" is meaningless. There is nothing in Senate rules or in logic that deems legislation that Senate Republicans don't support less legitimate than legislation Senate Republicans do support. Nothing.
Also worth noting: Republicans have used reconciliation to pass measures that lacked meaningful Democratic support.
Even the current Senate concurs that reconciliation ought not to be used for such mega-bills. Last April, 67 senators - including 26 Democrats and then-Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania - supported a resolution to prohibit reconciliation from being used to advance that other mega-bill lurking out there, the cap-and-trade climate-control bill.
Our custom has always been to subject such bigger-than-life bills to a rigorous vetting process that allows affected parties to scrutinize the pros and cons and examine alternatives before ultimately arriving at a broad and bipartisan consensus.
That might be interesting, if anybody was talking about passing the entire health insurance reform package through reconciliation. But nobody is. The Senate has already passed reform, and done so without using reconciliation. Reconciliation is being contemplated as a means of passing a much smaller package of changes to that legislation. So invoking the specter of "bigger than life bills" is irrelevant and misleading. And there's basically no chance Franc doesn't realize as much.
Eventually, Franc acknowledges that Republicans passed a 2003 tax cut package that was "was too much for the Democrats" via reconciliation. But that, Franc writes, was OK, because Republicans did well in the next elections:
This time, the political fallout was quite different. President Bush and his fellow Republicans actually prospered at the polls in the 2004 presidential election.
Reconciliation can yield political dividends, it seems. But only when it's used to force through controversial and consequential tax cuts.
So it seems Franc's opposition to the use of reconciliation for health care isn't actually about any principle; he doesn't really think it matters if legislation passed through reconciliation "appeals exclusively to one side of the aisle."
* As far as I know.