Thursday, March 11, 2010

Getting it Wrong on Reconciliation

Megan McArdle doesn't seem to grasp the details of the current discussions over reconciliation and the healthcare bill, but she sure does enjoy "dismantling current liberal talking points!"

In a post that I'm kind of baffled by, McArdle admits that she doesn't care that much about the legitimacy of using reconciliation to pass healthcare reform, but still, liberals are wrong and they're doing something really crazy with it. Just sayin'.

To that end, she cites a post by Prof. Joyner at Outside the Beltway noting that just over half of the major bills passed by reconciliation had supermajority support. This, Joyner says, shows that historically, reconciliation hasn't been used "as an end-around to avoid a cloture vote," so using it to bypass a filibuster and enact major legislation "is exceedingly rare, having happened at most 7 times since 1980." Joyner concludes, "using reconciliation to avoid a supermajority on health care reform would simply be unprecedented."

In response, McArdle wrote, "The word "unprecedented" doesn't strike me as all that troubling--we're not in court. But to the extent that you care, this use really does seem to be novel." So to sum it up: she doesn't care. But if you care - which, just to remind you, she doesn't - Democrats are totally wrong and are tossing historical precedent out the window. Again: just sayin'.

There's just one problem: both McArdle and Joyner have their facts completely wrong. The Senate already passed healthcare with a supermajority. Does anyone else recall the massively important 60-39 vote to pass healthcare on Christmas Eve? Or the constant reminder that both the Senate and the House have already passed bills, and the only remaining task is to reconcile the two bills? Does Megan McArdle not understand this, or did she simply forget that the bill has already been passed?

No one - no one - is talking about using reconciliation to pass comprehensive healthcare reform. The only use of reconciliation would be to make changes in the Senate bill's taxing and spending provisions in order to reconcile it with the House bill. This really isn't that complicated, but Megan McArdle is apparently not alone among major journalists in failing to understand it. Jon Chait recently banged his head against a wall trying to explain it to Politico's Mike Allen. "In the grand scheme of things," Chait wrote, "the changes in the reconciliation bill will be minor [...] I understand perfectly well how intelligent people who don't follow this debate closely might not catch on to the distinction. But this is what Mike Allen does all day -- and, as I understand it, much of the night and the wee hours of the morning as well. How can anybody still not understand this?"

I wonder the same thing myself - but here's a stab at an answer: lots of people don't want to understand it. Having a clear grasp of the facts makes the bill's (impending?) passage more difficult to criticize.

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