Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I wrote here about a possible filibuster that would stop the Senate health care debate before it starts.

But there has been much talk about the Senate's Democratic majority doing an end run around the filibuster rules. One vehicle for such a maneuver is the budget reconciliation process.

That process was part of the new budget rules that the Congress adopted in 1974, in the wake of budget battles that it had fought against Richard Nixon.

If Democrats use that procedure in this case, it seems as though they would be turning its purpose upside down. Reconciliation was intended to make policy changes to bring spending in line with the totals mandated by the annual budget resolution. Its purpose was to restrain federal spending, not to greatly add to it.

One procedural rule for the reconciliation process is that it can't be filibustered in the Senate. Therefore, health care legislation passed via that process would require only 51 affirmative votes rather than the 60 votes that are usually needed to prevent a filibuster.

If the Democratic leadership does that, the Republicans could respond by procedural moves that could greatly slow down the workings of the Senate.

The Senate often speeds up its proceedings, by obtaining unanimous consent to bypass certain cumbersome rules. If one or more Republicans were to object to those unanimous consent requests, they could really gum up the works.

One example is unanimous consent to not require that the full text of a bill be read to the Senate. According to this NPR report, Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is considering objecting to that routine procedure as regards the lengthy health-care bill.

What goes around comes around. When Republicans controlled the Senate during most of George W. Bush's presidency, Democrats were talking about using similar tactics, if the Republicans had bypassed filibusters against some of Bush's judicial nominees.

I very much want to prevent enactment of socialist health care. And Republican guerrilla tactics might be necessary to accomplish that. But it would be better if the Democrats were to realize that they will be back in the minority some day, and they therefore ought to be careful about weakening the filibuster option.

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