One of the Strangest Op-Eds You May Ever Get to Read

I think this op-ed, “Reconciliation on health care would be an assault on the democratic process” by Orrin Hatch has appeared 30 days ahead of schedule. Reconciliation is not the assault on democracy — the Senate is the assault on democracy. Senator Hatch may like the way the Senate requires supermajorities and other obstacles to the simplest version of majority rule that most of us think of when we hear the word “democracy,” but he shouldn’t go redefining words on his own. That’s not what language is for.

And the fun doesn’t stop there. Here are three more offenses against language that jump off the page:

1) Hatch refers to the reconciliation process as “arcane.” I don’t think so. The filibuster that reconciliation would circumvent is arcane.

2) Hatch again takes some liberties with the definition of democracy:

This use of reconciliation to jam through this legislation, against the will of the American people, would be unprecedented in scope.

Readers of the blog know I am no particularly fan of the health care bills, but if a majority of the elected representatives in both houses and the elected occupant of the White House all support the bill, then I think that “against the will of the American people” is a pretty tough sell.

3) I never thought I would see the Medicare Part D legislative process held up as a model. Read it and wonder:

But when President George W. Bush and Congress created the prescription drug benefit in 2003, we Republicans in the Senate decided against using reconciliation because it would have made the plan partisan and condemned this important legislation to failure. Instead, the bill garnered significant bipartisan support — demonstrating why reconciliation was not even attempted. That precedent should carry the day here.

Has Hatch forgotten the events of November 2003? Apparently so. But Bruce Bartlett hasn’t:

Even with a deceptively low estimate of the drug benefit’s cost, there were still a few Republicans in the House of Representatives who wouldn’t roll over and play dead just to buy re-election. Consequently, when the legislation came up for its final vote on Nov. 22, 2003, it was failing by 216 to 218 when the standard 15-minute time allowed for voting came to an end.

What followed was one of the most extraordinary events in congressional history. The vote was kept open for almost three hours while the House Republican leadership brought massive pressure to bear on the handful of principled Republicans who had the nerve to put country ahead of party. The leadership even froze the C-SPAN cameras so that no one outside the House chamber could see what was going on.

Among those congressmen strenuously pressed to change their vote was Nick Smith, R-Mich., who later charged that several members of Congress attempted to virtually bribe him, by promising to ensure that his son got his seat when he retired if he voted for the drug bill. One of those members, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was later admonished by the House Ethics Committee for going over the line in his efforts regarding Smith.

Eventually, the arm-twisting got three Republicans to switch their votes from nay to yea: Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, Butch Otter of Idaho and Trent Franks of Arizona. Three Democrats also switched from nay to yea and two Republicans switched from yea to nay, for a final vote of 220 to 215. In the end, only 25 Republicans voted against the budget-busting drug bill. (All but 16 Democrats voted no.)

Whatever happens with health care reform, that particular precedent should NOT carry the day.

About Andrew Samwick 89 Articles

Affiliation: Dartmouth College

Andrew Samwick is a professor of economics and Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

He is most widely known for his work on the economics of retirement, and his scholarly work has covered a range of topics, including pensions, saving, taxation, portfolio choice, and executive compensation.

In July 2003, Samwick joined the staff of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, serving for a year as its chief economist and helping to direct the work of about 20 economists in support of the three Presidential appointees on the Council.

Visit: Andrew Samwick's Page

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