Hatch Threatens Partisan 'War' If Dems Attempt Reconciliation Strategy

03/31/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is any indication, the GOP plans on greeting any attempt to move health care fixes into law through the budget reconciliation process with what amounts to protracted trench warfare.

Hatch promised "a new high in partisan tensions" if Democrats choose to go that route:

Hatch said Thursday that using reconciliation would be "one of the worst grabs for power in the history of the country" that would permanently impact relations between the two parties.

"It is going to be outright war and it should be, because it would be such an abuse of the reconciliation rules," Hatch said. "If they abuse those rules it is going to lead to even more heated animosities between not just the two parties, but even between individual senators."

It's not an empty threat. The advantage in using budget reconciliation to get health care fixes through the Senate is that it would allow Democrats to bypass a filibuster threat. Reconciliation votes would only require the support of 51 senators (or 50 plus Joe Biden). But the advantage could be countered if the GOP does what it's said it plans to do: load down the process with an interminable array of unrelated amendments, with the intention of turning the whole affair into a drawn-out, tendentious process that would force the Democrats to voice their opinion on a whole lot of issues.

Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) -- you know, the guy who's super concerned about government waste and who was at one time, perplexingly, in line to be President Barack Obama's Commerce Secretary, for frack's sake -- has vowed to "make it an extraordinarily difficult exercise." By which he presumably means a new frontier in extraordinary difficulty, beyond where he has already taken things.

However, Plum Line blogger Greg Sargent points out today that Hatch and his colleagues have backed reconciliation in plenty of past instances:

* The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007, which passed through reconciliation;

* The Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005, which passed through reconciliation;

* The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which passed through reconciliation;

* The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, which passed through reconciliation;

* The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, which passed through reconcilation;

* The Marriage Tax Penalty Relief Reconciliation Act of 2000, which passed through reconciliation; and

* The Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999, which passed through reconciliation.

And, as blogger Matt Yglesias pointed out a while back:

Under Bush, congress even tried to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to drilling via reconciliation--they failed because they couldn't get the fifty votes. There'd be nothing unusual about passing significant legislation through reconciliation. Nor would a reconciliation bill necessarily be an "inferior" one. It just might have to have a more limited subject matter.

But Hatch, in opposing the Democrats' potential reconciliation designs, is likely to find himself a powerful ally in the retrenched and absurd Beltway media, who have already laid the groundwork for treating reconciliation as some sort of alien way of passing legislation that doesn't really count.

Consider the case of David Broder -- serious people tend to listen to him for reasons that have never, ever been made entirely clear to me. Back in June, he said this:

The goal of the Obama White House is to come up with a health-care plan that can attract bipartisan support. The president has told visitors that he would rather have 70 votes in the Senate for a bill that gives him 85 percent of what he wants rather than a 100 percent satisfactory bill that passes 52 to 48.

There is good reason for that preference. When you are changing the way one-sixth of the American economy is organized and altering life for patients, doctors, hospitals and insurers, you need that kind of a strong launch if the result is to survive the inevitable vagaries of the shakedown period.

As I've said before, there may be junior high school civics classes out there where students are learning about the way the Founders established the "shakedown period" and it's "inevitable vagaries." In Fairfax County, Virginia, we learned that if 50 senators and the vice president agree on something, count it in. But that's way too simple for a political media that will probably cover Hatch's protracted partisan "war" as if they are rolling on Ecstacy.

Demystifying The Media's Take On Budget Reconciliation

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