Using A Tactic Against A Tactic…But Not Really

The current debate over the use of the budget reconciliation process is infuriating. The Senate, like every other deliberative body, by default makes decisions based on a majority vote, unless their rules say otherwise.

The filibuster is one of those rules, allowing a 40-Senator minority to keep debate open indefinitely and block the majority from getting to vote. It’s anti-democratic and its abuse has been shockingly nihilistic, but whatever. It’s in the rules.

Another Senate rule, however, allows for budget-related bills to bypass filibuster and pass with a majority vote (ie. “budget reconciliation”). Since it’s restricted to bills that can affect the budget, there are obviously some restrictions, but rules are rules. The filibuster and reconciliation, both perfectly acceptable under Senate rules.

So how the hell did one rule become the de facto standard for passing all legislation and the other a codeword for legislative thuggery? The filibuster is somehow sacrosanct (even among some Democrats with an inexplicable fondness for Senate tradition), but using a loophole to defeat another loophole is equivalent to “jamming” a bill through Congress? Either the rules count or they don’t.

Even worse than all this parliamentary horseshit is the fact that everyone is mischaracterizing the potential use of reconciliation. Health care reform won’t get pushed through the Senate via reconciliation. Reform itself already passed the Senate. On Christmas Eve. After overcoming a Republican filibuster.
What might get passed through budget reconciliation is a much smaller bill with fixes to the Senate bill to bring it closer to the House-passed bill. Fixes, not the overall reform itself. It’s an important distinction. Reform already passed both houses of Congress. All the whining in the world won’t change that fact.

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