Greg Dolan has asked me to detail why I oppose the use of reconciliation to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), known to everyone else as ObamaCare (or, since Thursday, as “ObamaTax”).
So I’ll give it an effort.
But first, a brief history lesson for the 99.9 percent of the population who neither know what budgetary reconciliation is nor care to research enough to find out.
For the sake of clarity, I’ll let more experienced minds explain (the original is from The New Republic — the link is dead, but it’s by Thomas Mann, Norm Ornstein, and Molly Reynolds):
Reconciliation was designed as a narrow procedure to bring revenue and direct spending under existing laws into conformity with the levels set in the annual budget resolution. It was used initially to cut the budget deficit by increasing revenues or decreasing spending but in more recent years its primary purpose has been to reduce taxes. Twenty-two reconciliation bills were passed between 1980 and 2008, although three (written by Republican majorities in Congress) were vetoed by President Clinton and never became law.
Democrats flirted with reconciliation when writing ObamaCare — and ultimately used the procedure to clean up some of the more odious elements of the legislation. Remember the Cornhusker Kickback? It ended the career of my Senator, Ben Nelson (D-NE). Nelson was the 60th vote for the legislation because of the kickback (bribe) — and it didn’t even up being enacted. (Nebraskans don’t like cronyism.)
Matt Lewis (disclosure: he’s my boss) called the Democratic take on reconciliation “Democrats and Double Standards,” writing:
Back in 2010, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid sent Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a missive detailing his plans to use reconciliation to pass ObamaCare: “We will [pass the legislation], Reid wrote, … [W]e plan to use the regular budget reconciliation process that the Republican caucus has used many times.” (That was the nicer version of Reid’s language. He also told Republicans to “stop crying over reconciliation.”)
Reconciliation allows 51 senators to pass legislation — effectively bypassing the filibuster. If the GOP retakes the Senate and the White House in November, it would certainly be an option — and a likely one if they are able to swing the country in that direction.
But I digress. If the GOP wants to use reconciliation (and has the numbers to pull it off), they can — and will. That debate is over.
So if it’s legal — and if it has precedent — why would I oppose the use of it to dismantle the most reviled law (for Republicans, at least) in decades? Isn’t the cost of using reconciliation worth the end result?
In short, no.
And it’s because the principles of conservatism value the process as much as the outcome.
During the height of the Progressive Era, Teddy Roosevelt wanted to dramatically amend the Constitution. And had he won the GOP Presidential nomination, it would have become reality. But the GOP — embracing conservative principles ahead of temporary political gain — selected someone else. In response, Roosevelt ran on the “Bull Moose” platform and effectively split the GOP vote in half. Woodrow Wilson went on to win the White House — but the Constitution endured.
And endure it must. Today’s political battlefield may look quite different than a century ago — but we’re still locked in a struggle over our institutions. Some, such as the left’s young wonks, think structural reform stands between them and their desired ends for our society.
They’re right, and every time the GOP bypasses the filibuster, cheers executive orders and tolerates judicial activism from its own, we get closer and closer to the conditions that encourage structural reform.
Ends matter. They really do. If I could wave a magic wand and restore a respect for the Constitution — and the principles it embodies — I’d consider it. But the process, as messy as it can be, matters. And if the GOP uses reconciliation to neuter ObamaTax, it can just as easily be used to restore it — or something worse.
Today’s GOP shows signs of mimicking the tools and organizational tactics of the left. After all, logic goes, “if they do it, why not us? If you want to win, you have to fight on the same playing field, right?”
No, No, No.
If “winning” means giving up the fight that matters — preserving our Republican system of government (and the limitations on power it creates) — I’d rather lose.
Because such a pyrrhic victory might as well be a loss.