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D. Brad Wright Headshot

Is Reconciliation Undemocratic?

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There's been some talk "out there" that reconciliation is an undemocratic process, because it doesn't go through the regular legislative channels. While I am forced to ask how any process requiring a majority vote in favor for passage can be undemocratic, it's not quite that simple. While my point may be true for the House, where representation is proportional to population, the same is not true in the Senate, where each state is represented by two Senators no matter its population size. Thus, California and Rhode Island have equal representation in the Senate, but the Senators from California represent many more people than do the Senators from Rhode Island. Looking at it, you can begin to envision a scenario wherein, if enough Senators from the least populous states united to vote in favor of a piece of legislation, it could be passed by a majority of that chamber, while that majority actually represents a minority of Americans. But that's not a problem confined to reconciliation--it's an intentional design of the Senate by the Constitution.

Reconciliation just seems "unfamiliar" and so people think of it as a way of getting around the ordinary system of representative democracy. That's just wrong. But it's still worth asking whether health care reform is being passed by a Senate majority that represents a majority or a minority of the American people. I'd do the analysis myself, but Sarika Gupta of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has already crunched the numbers and found the following:

In other words, even if not all 59 Democrats vote for the bill changes in reconciliation, close to 61% of the American people are being represented by their votes. Now, those of you who oppose reform, or who just like to argue with me, will be quick to point out that just because a Senator represents, say 15 million people, and he or she votes for health reform, doesn't mean that all of those 15 million people support health reform. True. And just because a Senator votes against health reform doesn't mean that his or her constituents are unanimously opposed to it, either. Unfortunately, this is one of the inherent weaknesses in representative democracy. But, as is often said, this system--as bad as it may be--still beats all the others that have been tried.

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