Wrong on reconciliation

ABC News’ Jake Tapper today did not challenge U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham as Graham railed against the notion that Senate Democrats might use reconciliation to get around a Republican filibuster and pass health-care reform.

Yet it is a simple fact that reconciliation will not be used to pass the measure. It is a logical impossibility.

As we know, both branches of Congress have already approved near-universal health-care bills. Sometime this week, the House is expected to vote on whether to pass the Senate version. If it’s approved, the bill will go to President Obama’s desk for his signature, and it will become law. No further action will be needed.

If reconciliation is used, it will only be to give the Senate a chance to tweak the law so that it is more to the liking of House Democrats. But keep in mind that if the effort fails, the Senate bill will still be the law of the land.

11 thoughts on “Wrong on reconciliation

  1. BP Myers

    You are technically correct, however it is disingenuous to say that reconciliation will not be used to pass the measure.

    It is doubtful the House would pass the Senate version without backroom promises that the differences between the House and the Senate would be worked out using the reconcilation process. Recall the Senate did NOT debate the House bill, but used some other monstrosity as its template.

    And it was most telling — and frightening — that Nancy Pelosi actually said “We need to pass the bill so you (the public and the press) can see what’s in it.” Parentheses mine.

    I don’t recall Schoolhouse Rocks! teaching me that this is the way the public learns what is in a bill.

  2. L.K. Collins

    Technically correct, but a whole lot of if’s, Dan.

    And don’t count on the House trusting the Senate to do what the Senate is pledging to do.

    And if the administration pulls this sort of fast one, it is likely that most of the other issues the administration is championing will go nowhere for the rest of this Congress.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @BP and @L.K.: My prediction is that the House is going to find a way to get this done, and the Senate will never pass the reconciliation bill. So we end up with the Senate version, which many observers believe is more fiscally responsible than the House version. And no reconciliation.

  3. I personally hope the bill gets killed. It’s a bad bill with so much junk in it it’s disturbing. It would be better to allow those people without insurance – or who want cheaper insurance – to buy into Medicare at 3 percent of payroll like Bernie Sander’s bill proposes.
    Frankly, anything that forces people to buy private insurance if they don’t have it is unacceptable. This is corporate welfare for insurance companies. Essentially, the government is forcing people to subsidize the profits of Anthem BCBS, Harvard Pilgrim, or whatever company, whether they can afford to or not. It’s just plain wrong. I’d rather live without insurance.
    How can I say this? Off and on in my life, I’ve been without insurance because it wasn’t offered by an employer or I couldn’t afford it. Between 1989 and 1997, I didn’t have insurance. I know what it is like. It’s not easy. But it is better than going bankrupt or working five jobs to cover the insurance.
    When I lost my job in 2007, I couldn’t afford the Anthem plans for the three of us. Even with all my savings it wasn’t enough. So I canceled my part of the plan for four months, and hoped for the best. Everything turned out fine. Today, if I lost my health care and was forced by the government to buy it out of pocket, it would be about $1,200 a month for the four of us, on the cheapest plan available right now. Or, I would face fines and penalties. This is not reform. This is not the answer. This is not acceptable. The Democrats are wrong on this. They need to start over.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Tony: There are two choices: the Senate bill (with whatever tweaks the House might be able to add) or nothing for another 20 years. If you’d rather have nothing for another 20 years, then that’s fine. That’s your position. To bring up a Bernie Sanders proposal is to remove yourself from the realm of anything that’s even remotely doable, regardless of the actual merits of his plan.

      The Nixon plan would have been preferable than what’s on the table now, but Ted Kennedy and other Democrats killed it in favor of something even better. We’re still waiting. Not wanting to become an expert on health-care reform, I have relied on Paul Krugman as to whether what’s on the table should get thumb’s-up or thumb’s-down. Remember, he supported Clinton over Obama in large measure because Obama’s health-care plan wasn’t progressive enough. Here’s his bottom line:

      So what’s the reality of the proposed reform? Compared with the Platonic ideal of reform, Obamacare comes up short. If the votes were there, I would much prefer to see Medicare for all.

      For a real piece of passable legislation, however, it looks very good. It wouldn’t transform our health care system; in fact, Americans whose jobs come with health coverage would see little effect. But it would make a huge difference to the less fortunate among us, even as it would do more to control costs than anything we’ve done before.

      This is a reasonable, responsible plan. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  4. Steve Stein

    You’re absolutely correct Dan. HCR was passed through regular order in both houses.

    But that’s not what the public hears. The other day the morning WBZ radio newsguy (I think it was Ed Walsh, but it might have been a sub) was talking with Bob Schieffer and noted that the Democrats were preparing the use of the “nuclear option” to pass HCR. This was stated as a point of fact, uncommented on by Schieffer. That’s what the public hears – Republican talking points repeated as fact, by the local mainstream radio news.

  5. I would add one other thing: That $1,200 per month plan for two adults and two kids doesn’t include the cost of copays or deductibles, which is in the thousands.

  6. L.K. Collins

    My point Dan, is that Obama can “get this done” and get nothing else of his agenda, or he can bite the bullet and go for something that all can agree on and have a chance at getting climate legislation, immigration reform, and some control over entitlements and the obscene deficits.

    The nation would be a lot better off with the latter; the benefits of the former will soon be found to be sorely lacking and millstones around his and his party’s figurative necks.

    I have long supported universal, single-payer health care. This sort of bill will kill that concept for decades…

    …all at the taxpayer’s great expense.

  7. Steve Stein

    @LK – That’s a particularly empty threat. It would be different than the current situation how exactly? There are over 100 Obama appointees already stalled. There are 200 bills from the House awaiting Senate action. (Ab)use of cloture resolutions is double what it was in the previous session – twice as high as it ever has been.

    If the Senate Republicans had been amenable to compromise before this, the threat of Senate stalemate might mean something, but as the situation stands, nothing will change.

  8. The oft-quoted Paul Krugman still think free trade works so I’ll take his words with a grain of salt. If the choices are being forced to subsidize the profits of insurance companies or else be by fined by the government or the system we have now, the system we have now is just fine.

  9. Michael Corcoran

    Dan,

    You say the option is “nothing for another 20 years” but I would like to offer up this reality.

    The bill that seems likely to pass has a state innovation clause, that allows states to opt-out of the federal funding for this and experiment with new things (though the lack of a clear ERISA waiver is troubling).

    This means that in states like Vermont and California, where state-wide singlepayer has a chance (both states passed it within the last few years only to have GOP Gov — both of whom are not running for re-election and will be replaced in 2010 — veto them), will not be able to experiment.

    State-wide single-payer could be a good trend and it offers significant savings due to elminating much admistrative waste. Vermont for example, would save $51 million a year if it implemented statewide single-payer, according a study commissioned by the Legislature. Best, it would cover everyone in those states.

    I agree prospects of federal reform are dim in the future. (Though if healthcare expenses continue to skyrocket as they are and hyperinflation starts to put the economy on the brink, even those reluctant to reform now, may sing a different tune, and reform could be revisited, regardless of the fate of ObamaCare). But there is some real momentum in the states, and this bill thwarts that.

    Plus, the bill also empowers these private companies, by guaranteeing them business, but not having very reliable checks on them. They can still charge more for those with pre-existing conditions, can still deny care (if not insurance), and the enforcement mechanism in the Senate bill are very weak. Futher, it does virtually nothing to stop underinsurance – arguably as big of a problem as underinsurance. Even those with insurance are not – -and will not be, under this plan — protected from financial ruin.

    This bill has some good things (subsides, new regulations), but it is at least arguable they do not make up for the bad things (increased power of private insurers with no public option for competition, paying for it with middle class taxes, rather than the rich (as the House bill did), and hurting prospects for state-wide reforms.

    Perfect may be the enemy of the good, but this might not even be good.

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