Former Secretary of Labor Bob Reich, on behalf of MoveOn, warns Democrats what will happen if Republicans take control of the Senate: they may use a “tricky, little-known maneuver” to “ram through” their “right-wing policies” with only 51 votes, instead of the 60 votes “usually required” in the Senate. Here he is:
So the “tricky, little-known maneuver” that the Republicans may use is reconciliation. Reconciliation dates to the 1974 Budget Act and has been used many times since to enact spending and tax legislation. The House Rules Committee explains the reconciliation process here.
Reconciliation has never been a partisan issue; it has been favored by both Democrats and Republicans for budget matters. But the most controversial use of the procedure, by far, took place in 2010 when the Democrats relied on it to pass Obamacare without a single Republican vote, and without having 60 votes in the Senate. James Capretta reminds us of that piece of history:
Without reconciliation, Obamacare would not have become law at all. It’s true that the main Obamacare structure was passed by the Senate in December 2009 under normal rules for legislative consideration. That’s because Democrats at that time had 60 votes (including two independent senators who caucus with them). They didn’t need to resort to reconciliation to pass the bill as long as all 60 of their senators stuck together and supported passage, which they did.
But then Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate race in January 2010; the Democrats lost their 60-vote supermajority and could no longer close off debate on legislation without the help of at least one Republican senator.
At that point, the president and his allies had two choices. They could compromise with Republicans and bring back a bill to the Senate that could garner a large bipartisan majority. Or they could ignore the election results in Massachusetts and pull an unprecedented legislative maneuver, essentially switching from regular order to reconciliation at the eleventh hour, thereby bypassing any need for Republican support. As they had done at every other step in the process, the Democrats chose the partisan route. They created a separate bill, with scores and scores of legislative changes that essentially became the vehicle for a House-Senate conference on the legislation. That bill was designated a reconciliation bill. Then they passed the original Senate bill through the House on the explicit promise that it would be immediately amended by this highly unusual reconciliation bill, which then passed both the House and Senate a few days later, on an entirely party-line vote.
Ironically, the Democrats’ use of reconciliation to pass Obamacare was indeed a “tricky maneuver,” unlike the standard use of reconciliation by both parties to move budget legislation. And note Reich’s discreet reference to the filibuster–60 votes are “usually required” in the Senate–except, of course, to the extent that Harry Reid unilaterally changes the rules. The filibuster is either reviled or, as here, hallowed, depending entirely on whose ox is being gored.
Reich knows all of this, but he is secure in the knowledge that the Democrats’ rank and file, including the donors to whom MoveOn’s video is addressed, are ignorant of the most basic facts of government and do not have memories that reach back to the distant past of 2010. So there is no effective constraint on dishonesty if you are a Democrat bent on fundraising.
Still, this must have been an uncomfortable moment for Bob Reich, who once thought he was somebody. To have to shill so disgracefully and mislead so baldly is a sad comedown for a former cabinet secretary.