By Bernie Horn
It has come to this: Americans cannot get the health care reform we need without using the “reconciliation” process in the U.S. Senate. We can’t get 60 votes. Senator Kennedy’s seat will remain vacant for 5 months. Senator Byrd remains very ill. A handful of “moderate” Democrats and Republicans stand in the way of achieving cloture. It’s time to craft and pass a bill that requires a majority vote.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle—as moderate a Democrat as any—urges Democrats to invoke majority rule:
[S]hould Republican intransigence continue, Democrats cannot simply stop. They cannot ignore the human suffering as well as their fiscal responsibility to act. They must focus on the budgetary implications of health reform and use the Senate rules of budget reconciliation to allow a health-care bill move with majority support. The choice between complete legislative failure and majority rule should not pose a dilemma for any Democratic senator.
Republicans who cry foul have only themselves to blame. First, they walked away from the table even though they had many opportunities to participate in White House meetings and in House and Senate committees over the past eight months—and eight years. Second, they set an ample number of precedents over the past decade in using their majorities then to pass their agenda using the same reconciliation rules in the Senate.
Naturally, Republicans are “crying foul.” Two days ago, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said Democrats would set off a “minor revolution in the country” if they use reconciliation. He gave this advice to Democrats:
I think that would wreck our health care system and wreck the Democratic Party if they did that… The intensity [of the opposition] is like nothing I have seen in a long, long time.
Yesterday, conservative columnist David Brooks gave Democrats similar advice in the New York Times:
Some now argue that the administration should just ignore the ignorant masses and ram health care through using reconciliation, the legislative maneuver that would reduce the need for moderate votes. This would be suicidal. You can’t pass the most important domestic reform in a generation when the majority of voters think you are on the wrong path. To do so would be a sign of unmitigated arrogance. If Obama agrees to use reconciliation, he will permanently affix himself to the liberal wing of his party and permanently alienate independents. He will be president of 35 percent of the country─and good luck getting anything done after that.
Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) warned that he is all ready for the reconciliation fight with “hundreds of procedural objections.” He promised a news reporter that he will “wage a vicious fight if Democrats try to circumvent Senate rules and use a budget maneuver to pass a trillion dollar healthcare plan with a simple majority.”
To quote the former President, bring it on.
Democrats in Washington must pass a strong health reform bill or voters will give up on them. There is no turning back. There is no “death with dignity” for the health care bill. This is the most important political fight in memory—we cannot afford to lose.