The battle lines over the use of the budget reconciliation process have been drawn for a long time. Back in October, Republicans were referring to the commonly-used parliamentary tactic as "the nuclear option" and were getting support from the Washington Post's David Broder, who offered a typically clueless take on the process, suggesting that it would create a bill that wouldn't survive the "inevitable vagaries" of the "shakedown period" -- a legislative period that isn't taught in junior high school civics class because junior high school civics classes are not taught inside David Broder's brain.
For a while, frantic talk of the ills of budget reconciliation had died down. But now, with a televised health care summit in the offing, the fortunes of health care reform have been revived. And it's not just health care reform that's got wind in its sails: the public option has of late made a comeback. And, as it turns out, it's as crazy popular as ever:
* In Nevada, only 34% support the Senate bill, while 56% support the public option.
* In Illinois, only 37% support the Senate bill, while 68% support the public option.
* In Washington State, only 38% support the Senate bill, while 65% support the public option.
* In Missouri, only 33% support the Senate bill, while 57% support the public option.
* In Virginia, only 36% support the Senate bill, while 61% support the public option.
* In Iowa, only 35% support the Senate bill, while 62% support the public option.
*In Minnesota, only 35% support the Senate bill, while 62% support the public option.
* In Colorado, only 32% support the Senate bill, while 58% support the public option.
It's hardly surprising that support for passing the public option via reconciliation is surging. And thus, it's hardly surprising that attacks on the budget reconciliation process have been renewed as well. On this Sunday's "Meet The Press", House Republican Conference Chair Mike Pence (R-Ind.) amped up the anti-reconciliation rhetoric:
PENCE: And quite frankly let me clear on this. And I'll say this with with Chris in the room. House Republicans would welcome a good faith effort to start over on health care reform. We've had our bill online for months. We welcomed the Democrats are gonna put their latest bill online tomorrow. If we were talking about really starting over, with a clean piece of paper, scrapping the bills that have passed the House and the Senate. And also renouncing the abuse of the legislative process known as reconciliation.
It was certainly strange to hear the commonly-used budget reconciliation process referred to as an "abuse of the legislative process." Naturally, neither David Gregory nor any member of his panel had the presence of mind to immediately push back on Pence's weird contention. I know that many people have expressed skepticism about my belief that these Sunday morning chat shows can be fact-checked in real time, but the fact is just about anyone should be able to use the Google to dig up some previous instances where the reconciliation process has been used to pass important measures without anyone sniffing that it was an "abuse of the legislative process":
Ronald Reagan's groundbreaking tax cuts in 1981 were passed through reconciliation. So was Bill Clinton's 1993 budget. So were George W. Bush's tax cuts. 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.
It's actually pretty non-controversial, and the media could play a part in objectively demonstrating that it's non-controversial, but they'd first have to know something about the legislative process and privilege that knowledge over the shiny political fights they'd rather cover. (Admittedly, it doesn't help that the White House seems pretty clueless on reconciliation as well.)
But beyond attacking the false premises of Mike Pence, it's a mystery why no one seems to want to point out the underlying lack of logic in warning that passing health care reform through reconciliation would be bad.
The Republicans, in public, talk about the health care bill as something that public sentiment is aligning against. If they believe that to be true, then they also must believe that their electoral fortunes in 2010 will be enhanced if the Democrats force health care reform through to passage. As a matter of fact, at this very moment, Republican strategist John Feehery is on MSNBC, espousing this belief to Andrea Mitchell:
FEEHERY: I don't think it will be good for the Democrats to do that. I think Republicans will be angry and I think the American people will be angry about this strategy. Fifty-one votes and jamming it down the throat of the Senate and the American people is politically very dangerous for the Democrats.
Since you'd imagine that the GOP wants to enhance its electoral fortunes and for the Democrats to do things that are politically damaging to their chances, it seems to me that the thing the party would most like to see happen is for the Democrats to "abuse the legislative process" and bypass Republican obstructionism by using the budget reconciliation process.
But instead, the GOP has vowed to bog down the legislative process in partisan "war." So it's almost as if they recognize that Democratic fortunes will be greatly enhanced by passing health care, and that health care reform, once given to people, will prove to be wildly popular.