February 22, 2010

Fox News' Megyn Kelly this morning, on the supposedly "opinion free" and "fair and balanced" "news show" America Live:

Kelly: Moments ago, at the White House briefing, reporters asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about reports the Democrats are ready to use the so-called "nuclear option". This would mean forcing a health-care reform bill through with only fifty-one votes in the Senate as opposed to sixty.

Here is Gibbs, refusing to rule that out.

Kelly then played a video of Gibbs trying to explain that the reconciliation option is always there, and always has been. (Indeed, it would require a suspension of Senate rules to take it off the table.)

Then she brought on Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who similarly tried to explain that reconciliation is always an option if the forthcoming summit on health care does not produce a bipartisan agreement, and that taking it off the table is not an option. Kelly wasn't listening.

But that, of course, is only the half the problem. The other is that reconciliation is not a "nuclear option" -- it's a normative part of Senate rules. And its use simply underscores the fact that the Constitution did not create a Senate in which legislation may only pass by sixty votes. It created one in which fifty-one was sufficient.

It's only been in recent years, through Republican abuse of the filibuster, that sixty votes has become the standard level of support to get anything passed. Reconciliation is the one process that circumvents the filibuster and negates such abuse.

Moreover, as Media Matters explains, the term "nuclear option" refers to a Republican plan to do away with the filibuster altogether, threatened back when Democrats used filibuster threats to hold up the Bush administration's extremist slate of judicial appointments. That's hardly what Democrats are planning with health-care reform.

Indeed, as the New York Times pointed out last year, reconciliation has always been a popular option with Republicans in getting key pieces of legislation passed.

But there are a couple of problems for Republicans as they push back furiously against the idea, chief of which is the fact that they used the process themselves on several occasions, notably when enacting more than $1 trillion in tax cuts in 2001.

That means critics can have a field day lampooning Republicans and asking them — as Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, did repeatedly the other day — why reconciliation was such a good idea when it came to giving tax cuts to millionaires but such a bad one when it comes to trying to provide health care to average Americans.

The record is also replete with past statements by Republicans such as Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the party’s leader on budget issues, praising the logic of reconciliation.

“We are using the rules of the Senate here,” Mr. Gregg said in 2005 as he fought off Democratic complaints that reconciliation was wrongly being employed to block filibusters against opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. “Is there something wrong with majority rules? I don’t think so.”

But he and other Republicans, with some Democrats concurring, say that using reconciliation to accomplish Mr. Obama’s sweeping objectives would distort the intent of a procedure intended mainly to lower the deficit, not restructure the national economy.

Hahahahahaha! Good one! As though Bush's tax cuts -- which predictably had the result of widening the gap between rich and poor in this country -- didn't represent a fundamental restructuring of the national economy.

Indeed, Ronald Reagan used the reconciliation process in 1981 to pass his tax cuts -- which had a similar effect.

But when Democrats go that route, they're suddenly going "nuclear."


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