With the health care debate back in the spotlight, Americans continue to call for a new approach to health care reform. The original Senate bill was very partisan and costly, and required multiple special deals just to garner support from all Democrats. The bill is so ill-conceived that the House of Representatives to date has refused to even consider it. As this bill lingers on life support, Republicans stand waiting with ideas to confront the problems of cost and access on a step-by-step basis. Instead, it looks as if bipartisanship will be passed over in favor of a process called reconciliation to circumvent Senate rules and railroad through this deeply flawed, partisan bill.
Reconciliation does two things: it drastically limits debate and it allows legislation to pass with only a simple majority vote. Sixty votes are required for a reason: this threshold requires and indeed encourages greater cooperation and agreement. It fosters bipartisanship. President Obama agreed as recently as 2005, when as a Senator he stated that removing the 60-vote threshold would "change the character of the Senate forever" and that having "majoritarian, absolute power on either side" was "not what the Founders intended." Weeks later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also proclaimed, "The right to extend a debate is never more important than when one party controls both Congress and the White House. The filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government."
Reconciliation has never been used to pass a bill of this magnitude and on a strictly partisan basis. When it was utilized for tax cuts, 12 Senate Democrats supported it; when used for welfare reform, half of all Democrats approved. Using reconciliation to pass health care reform, which would overhaul one-sixth of our economy, has been rejected by all Republicans and a majority of the American people. It is an intolerable parliamentary trick to jam an ill-advised bill through Congress.
Some have been quick to blame the 41 Republicans for being obstructionist. Let us not forget that the Senate has historically operated smoothly when neither party had anywhere close to a 60-vote supermajority. How? By crafting sensible and thoughtful bills that enjoyed bipartisan support. That is how the Senate has always worked. Yet with such a strong majority, Democrat leadership decided to abandon bipartisanship entirely. They produced a health care bill that Republicans and most Americans view as terribly flawed. Now they want to double down on their one-sided bill, ignore compromise, and pass it with a simple majority using a method never intended to be used for such far-reaching legislation.
President Obama was right: the Founding Fathers were frightened of what they called "tyranny of the majority," and created the Senate so that cooperative agreements would be reached. It is my hope that Democrats will resist the temptation to use this parliamentary maneuver and instead return to the drawing board so we can give the American people a bipartisan bill they want and deserve.