Health Care Hypocrisy
By Bernie Horn
April 20, 2009 - 1:36am ET
Sometimes my computer’s thesaurus is useful, but today it’s downright essential. Without it, how could I describe the way Republican senators have reacted to the idea of using the budget reconciliation process to enact crucial health care reform legislation. I mean, how many times can I repeat the most accurate description—“whiners”?
Let’s review the situation. The House version of the congressional Budget Resolution includes language that would—if necessary—allow health care reform to be adopted by the Senate without requiring 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. The Senate version of the budget does not include that language. In order to enact effective health care reform in 2009, progressives must insist that the conference committee adopt the House reconciliation language.
There are 41 Senate Republicans, barely enough to kill any bill by filibuster—except for a reconciliation bill that requires only 51 votes to pass. So, naturally, they’re whining loudly about the reconciliation process.
Whiner-in-Chief Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., complained: “That would be the Chicago approach to governing: Strong-arm it through…. You’re talking about the exact opposite of bipartisan. You’re talking about running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River.”
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., apparently unable to express an original thought, whimpered: “In this post-partisan time of Barack Obama, we’re seeing a little Chicago politics. They steamroller those who disagree with them, then, I guess in Chicago, they coat them in cement and drop them in the river.”
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, griped: “If they exercise that tool, it’s going to be infinitely more difficult to bridge the partisan divide.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, moaned that reconciliation “would be a mess;” Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, bellyached that reconciliation would “sour” relations in the Senate; and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., bleated that reconciliation would be a “purely partisan exercise.”
The problem is—they’re tremendous hypocrites. They all favored using the reconciliation process for controversial legislation they wanted to enact without a Democratic filibuster. For example, every single one of them voted to use budget reconciliation to adopt Bush’s signature tax cuts for the rich in 2001. And every one except Snowe voted to use reconciliation again in 2003 to pass Bush’s second round of regressive tax cuts.
In fact, the reconciliation process has been used most years since 1980, frequently by Republicans. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer laid out the many precedents in a document posted on TalkingPointsMemo. Writing in Newsweek, Jonathan Alter lays out a similar case, remarking that:
Republicans are shocked (shocked!) at the idea that a tool they used when they were in control to pass huge tax cuts for the rich in 2001 and 2003 might now be used for Obama’s agenda.
The whiners are not only hypocrites. Their argument is flatly wrong.
The purpose of the budget reconciliation process is to help overcome powerful special interests so the federal budget can be brought closer to balance. When conservatives used the process to enact massive tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, they were making the federal deficit much worse—cynically using reconciliation to achieve the very opposite of its purpose. When Republicans tried to use reconciliation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling in 2005, Sen. Gregg’s explanation had nothing to do with narrowing the budget deficit: “The president asked for it, and we’re trying to do what the president asked for.”
Health care reform, in contrast, is the only way we’ll ever be able to narrow the federal deficit in the long run. Everyone who has looked at budget projections knows that if we don’t restructure the system, health care costs will skyrocket over a number of years and make both employer-sponsored private insurance and public health programs unsustainable.
President Obama put it bluntly: “If we don’t address [health care] costs…we’ll run out of money. The federal government will be bankrupt.” Even the right-wing budget-hawk Peterson Foundation agrees that “without comprehensive reform, growing health care costs could bankrupt the country….”
What can you do?
Please take a moment to call your members of Congress and urge them to support budget reconciliation for health care reform. Senators and representatives take phone calls from constituents very seriously, much more seriously than faxes or emails. Our friends at Health Care for America Now! have provided this hyperlink that makes it easy to call your members of Congress—for free.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the recent book, "Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People."
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