Monday, April 27, 2009

Storm Warning

Steve Benen made some good points on today's edition of Poli-Sci-Fi Radio. Well, he made a lot of them, as he always does, but let's stick to one topic for the moment: health care legislation is moving forward. Hurrah!

Steve said that he was amazed that what should be seen as very encouraging signs weren't getting more play in the media or the blogosphere, and speculated that this might well be due to the progress involving arcana of the legislative process.

The basics, as you probably know, are that in order to get pretty much anything through the Senate, you have to get at least 60 votes. If not when voting on the bill itself, then you have to get this many to vote for cloture to allow the bill itself to be voted on, or at the very least, you have to get 60 Senators to agree not to support launching a filibuster in the first place.

There is a way around this, called the reconciliation process, which as I understand it, was something come up with to get absolutely critical spending bills through the Senate once filibustering, or the ever-present threat of it, became the norm in the Senate. A bill following this reconciliation route can't be filibustered, which means it only requires a straight majority vote to pass; i.e, 50 votes (or 51, if Norm Coleman ever faces up to reality) instead of 60. And just as the filibuster has morphed from its original narrow intent, so has the reconciliation process.

One of the recent encouraging signs for those of us who would like the US to have a national health care plan is that the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress agreed to include a "reconciliation instruction" in their road map for crafting the legislation. That is, rather than trying to go the usual route and either having the bill stall, or risk having to water it down to get votes from a few conservative Dems, and then water it down further to get three grudging GOP votes, there is a deadline. This means both that the GOP won't be able to obstruct forever and that those who actually want to create a real health care plan won't be under as much pressure to give away the store just to be passing something. In plainer language, President Obama has shown he knows that there are times when you try to compromise with Republicans, and there are times when you realize that playing a little hardball is what's good for the country and what's wanted by a strong majority of the people.

Did we say "hasn't been getting much play?" Expect that to change soon, as the usual suspects start howling about Obama's "lack of outreach," "hyperpartisanship," and depending on how far to the right your channel or Web surfing takes you: SOCIALISM! TYRANNY! THIS IS JUST LIKE HITLER!!!1! NOW WE'RE REALLY GOING TO SECEDE THIS TIME WE MEAN IT REALLY!!!1!1!

Paul Krugman offers a useful reminder about past uses of the reconciliation process as we batten down the hatches:

Republicans will, of course, scream that this is a terrible, terrible thing — something they themselves would never have done — except, of course, to cut food stamps, pass both major Bush tax cuts, and more.

I've jotted all this down to see if it would help me understand it better, so kids, if you're using the Internet to do your homework, beware. Probably better to get it straight from Steve, whose thoughts I've been trying to summarize, and you can do that by downloading the podcast from the home page for Poli-Sci-Fi Radio. It should be available Monday or Tuesday.

Meantime, there's always Steve's fine blog, Carpetbagger Report (pay no attention to that blog; that's an old blog) Political Animal, which I'm sure will be covering this health care business closely.

Also, I got a few more details from a helpful post by Jonathan Cohn, via PK.

Just to be clear, this isn't going to happen overnight. The deadline which the reconciliation instruction specifies is October 15th. So, there will be plenty of opportunity for the Republicans to contribute meaningfully to the process. The "jamming down our throats" whining that you're sure to hear will be even less true than usual. But the important point is that there is a real deadline, which means that we really will get a health care plan passed, and assuming we're not all dead from the flu by then, we'll be able to live happily ever after, the end.

[Added] Short follow-up post here.

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