This week the president is hosting a bipartisan gab-fest at the White House to try to tease out some Republican votes for health care reform. It's a total waste of time. If Obama thinks he's going to get a single Republican vote at this stage of the game, he's fooling himself (or the American people). Many months ago, you may recall, the White House and Democratic party leaders in the Senate threatened to pass health care with 51 votes -- using a process called "reconciliation" that allows tax and spending bills to be enacted without filibuster -- unless Republicans came on board. It's time to pull the trigger.
Why haven't the President and Senate Democrats pulled the reconciliation trigger before now? I haven't spoken directly with the President or with Harry Reid but I've spent the last several weeks sounding out contacts on the Hill and in the White House to find an answer. Here are the theories. None of them justifies waiting any longer.
- Reconciliation is too extreme a measure to use on a piece of legislation so important. I hear this a lot but it's bunk. George W. Bush used reconciliation to enact his giant tax cut bill in 2003 (he garnered only 50 votes for it in the Senate, forcing Vice President Cheney to cast the deciding vote). Six years before that, Bill Clinton rounded up 51 votes to enact the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded health insurance coverage for children in the U.S. since Medicaid began in the 1960s. Through reconciliation, we also got Medicare Advantage. Also through reconciliation came the COBRA act, which gives Americans a bit of healthcare protection after they lose a job ("reconciliaton is the "R" in the COBRA acronym.) These were all big, important pieces of legislation, and all were enacted by 51 votes in the Senate.
So what's been stopping Obama from using reconciliation? Even if some of the arguments held water before now, none does any longer.
My free advice to the president: If you want to get health care enacted you must use reconciliation and quickly. Host your bipartisan gab fest at the White House on Thursday. Tell Republicans you've been eagerly awaiting their ideas for over a year, but the American public can't wait any longer. Explain to them how our current economic mess is directly related to the health care mess -- we're paying 16 percent of our GDP for health care while health insurers are hiking rates and Americans are losing their health insurance every day. Then tell the House and Senate to get to work on putting their bills together (or tell the House Democrats to enact the Senate bill and then save their disagreements for reconciliation), and tell Harry Reid you want the Senate bill on a fast track of reconciliation.
Explain to the American people you understand their impatience. The Constitution does not require 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation. A majority will do. That's called democracy.
Cross-posted from RobertReich.org.
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