HCR supporters seeking a compelling rebuttal of the Republican meme that the budget reconciliation process is somehow undemocratic need look no farther than E. J. Dionne Jr.’s WaPo op-ed, “The Republicans’ big lie about reconciliation.” Dionne gives President Obama due credit for including some of the Republicans’ favored provisions in the HCR package, and then addresses President Obama’s commitment to pass the legislation in keeping with the democratic process, despite GOP myth-mongering:
…What he’s (rightly) unwilling to do is give the minority veto power over a bill that has deliberately and painfully worked its way through the regular legislative process.
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.
Dionne then addresses Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch’s distortion of the use of the budget reconciliation process to “ram through the Senate a multitrillion-dollar health-care bill.” Dionne points out that reconciliation would be used only for some amendments to the legislation. He then nails Hatch for saying that Democratic senators Robert Byrd and Kent Conrad oppose using reconciliation for health care reform:
What he didn’t say is that Byrd’s comment from a year ago was about passing the entire bill under reconciliation, which no one is proposing. As for Conrad, he made clear to The Post’s Ezra Klein this week that it’s perfectly appropriate to use reconciliation “to improve or perfect the package,” which is the only thing that Democrats have proposed doing through reconciliation.
Hatch, like many other Republicans strains to characterize the use of reconciliation as illegitimate in passing health reform measures. But Dionne isn’t having any of this particular brand of GOP hypocrisy:
Hatch said that reconciliation should not be used for “substantive legislation” unless the legislation has “significant bipartisan support.” But surely the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, which were passed under reconciliation and increased the deficit by $1.7 trillion during his presidency, were “substantive legislation.” The 2003 dividends tax cut could muster only 50 votes. Vice President Dick Cheney had to break the tie. Talk about “ramming through.”
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.
And then Dionne rolls out the moral imperative: “…It’s not just legitimate to use reconciliation to complete the work on health reform. It would be immoral to do otherwise and thereby let a phony argument about process get in the way of health coverage for 30 million Americans.”
And that’s really the heart of the issue.