GOP Should Shut Down SenateSubmitted by Misfit4Peace on Thu, 08/20/2009 - 13:49
If Dems Use Procedural Tactic to Ram Through Health-Care Bill, Says Conservative Leader
Thursday, August 20, 2009
By Pete Winn, Senior Writer/Editor
(CNSNews.com) – Conservative leader Gary Bauer warned Wednesday that Democratic leaders in Congress will try to ram through their unpopular health-care reform plan later this fall, employing a little-used tactic first conceived as a way to maneuver around the budget deficit battles of the 1980s.
“I’m afraid that they (Democratic leaders) will do it because I’m convinced that the people running America are intent on changing America in ways that will not be reversible,” Bauer told CNSNews.com.
The tactic, known as “reconciliation,” is designed to get around the filibuster, a Senate procedure used to prevent the majority from running roughshod over the minority.
“When you have a filibuster, it takes 60 Senate votes to pass something,” Bauer said. “The Democrats don’t have 60 votes that they can count on for the health-care bill, making reconciliation all the more likely,” Bauer said.
“It’s a little esoteric, but the bottom line is that they will be able to ram this through with just 51 votes,” Bauer added.
The controversial 1,000-page bill overhauling the nation's health-care system is currently before Congress, which remains in recess until September.
If liberal Democrats do force through the legislation over the significant objections of conservatives, the former Republican presidential candidate says the minority party should be prepared to shut down the Senate.
“The only remedy for this, is for the minority in Congress...to make it clear that if this is used on such a major piece of legislation, that the minority Republicans will literally shut down the Senate by using parliamentary maneuvers, and so forth--so that literally nothing else will pass this year and next, until there is another election,” Bauer, who is president of the group American Values, said.
“That would turn Washington into an even more partisan battleground, but it may be the only solution to the threat that’s being rumored right now,” Bauer added.
Reconciliation is an option that was created in the 1974 Congressional Budget Act to allow Congress a way out of intractable budget battles.
Wesleyan University government professor Elvin Lim said it was invented as a way to achieve a balanced budget--not to force through highly controversial legislation.
“It wasn’t passed to allow Congress to go ahead and do anything it wants, but as it turns out, that’s the way it’s been used, quite frankly, by both sides of the aisle,” Lim told CNSNews.com.
In fact, he said, President George W. Bush was the last to utilize the tactic--getting Congress to pass tax cuts three times in ‘01, ‘03 and ’05--because he wanted to bypass a Senate filibuster by Democrats.
The budget reconciliation process is a two-stage process. First, reconciliation “directives” must be included in the annual budget resolution. In fact, directives for the health-care reform bill were placed in the 2010 budget resolution, which was passed April 29.
If utilized for the health-care bill, House and Senate committees would be ordered to develop a final version of the legislation by a specific date (in this case, Oct. 15) to meet certain spending or revenue targets. The committees would then send their legislative recommendations to their respective budget committees, who would be tasked with packaging all recommendations into one omnibus reconciliation bill.
The resulting bill would be fast-tracked and sent to the floor of both chambers of Congress for debate. A 20-hour limit is placed on debate of any measure considered under the reconciliation process, which effectively strips the minority party of the filibustering option in the Senate.
“The bottom line here is that this reconciliation procedure allows the Senate to bypass its normal filibuster procedure of 60 votes--and instead only requires 51 votes for passage of bills,” Lim said.
That means the Democrats could pass health-care reform in the Senate with a simple majority.
Lim, however, said the procedure has a downside. Any measure passed under the reconciliation procedure will be “sunsetted”--meaning, it would automatically expire when it reaches a cutoff date.
“They may get what they want, but it’s only going to last 10 years, if they go the reconciliation route,” Lim said.
In fact, Lim said Democrats are counting on having the 10 years to sell the public that their health-care reform doesn’t mean that the system is going to fall apart.
“If Americans are happy with the health care, and health-care costs go down, as Democrats promised, then there may be room for an extension of the sunset provision,” Lim told CNSNews.com. “If things go awry, then obviously Republicans would be able to say ‘I told you so.’”
House and Senate Democratic leaders are being pushed towards reconciliation from two directions, Lim said.
“They know they cannot get many Republicans on the public option, but they also know they are going to lose their liberal base if they don’t go for a public option, they are forced into rather narrow band of being not too far to the left while not offending the right,” Lim added.
Ironically, the White House is even thinking of bringing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in for behind-the-scenes politicking on the health bill, Lim said.
“I don’t think they (Democrats) fathomed the depth of antipathy to the possibility of a public option in health care, I honestly don’t think they foresaw this. They thought that it was going to be relatively easy because they had this grand mandate from the 2008 elections,” Lim said.
But Lim warned Democratic leaders not to underestimate the extent of opposition to the public option. Townhall outrage and tea parties have not been ginned up by the opposition, he said, but reflect a huge subterranean split in America that goes all the way back to the founding of the country.
“It’s a fundamental divide,” Lim said. “I think it goes to the heart of America. Think about it – what was the first political debate Americans ever had? It was about the state – how are we going to trust a federal government and how much power are we going to give to it. The health-care debate sits exactly on that tectonic.”
If the Democratic leadership uses the reconciliation process about such a major bill, what then?
“It’s only going to reinforce the conservatives’ and Blue Dog Democrats’ belief that (liberal) Democrats insist on having their way – they are intolerant of alternate conceptions of what the state should look like,” Lim said.
Bauer, meanwhile, predicts that the Obama administration will insist upon using reconciliation.
“These are Chicago machine politicians -- people who are used to playing incredible hardball, of ramming through what they want, no matter the cost.”