Commentary Magazine


Time for the Saucer

The Obama administration has been making noise about using the budget reconciliation process, rather than the normal legislative process, to ram through health care and cap-and-trade legislation. The former requires only 51 votes for passage of legislation, while the latter is subject to the filibuster (and thereby requires 60 votes).

Sen. Robert Byrd goes ballistic on the opinion page of the Washington Post:

The misuse of the arcane process of reconciliation — a process intended for deficit reduction — to enact substantive policy changes is an undemocratic disservice to our people and to the Senate’s institutional role. Reconciliation, with its tight time limits, excludes debate and shuts down amendments. Essentially it says “take it or leave it” to the citizens who sent us here to solve problems, and it prevents members from representing their constituents’ interests. Everyone likes to win, and the Obama administration, of course, wants victories. But tactics that ignore the means in pursuit of the ends are wrong when the outcome affects Americans’ health and economic security.

Ouch. So the question remains whether the administration will pursue both or either of these items using reconcilliation and risk a legislative meltdown. With news that the administration’s budget and deficit numbers are not as advertised, I suspect there will be greater resistance both from Republicans as well as Red state Democrats to letting the president jam through enormously expensive pieces of legislation without the luxury of time and the backstop of a filibuster. After all, didn’t they all get burned in the “hurry-up-in-secret” approach to the stimulus plan?

Once again, the Framers had it right. If ever there was a time to “pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it,” it is now.