The Democrats’ looming plan to use reconciliation to force their unpopular version of health care reform through the Senate stands as a testament to Harry Reid’s failed leadership and his unwillingness to work in a bipartisan fashion.
According to senior GOP Senate staffers, Reid has kept his Republican colleagues in the dark, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, about his health care plans and has never made any effort to reach across the aisle and build consensus. Instead, the Senate majority leader has equated bipartisanship with Republicans surrendering their principles in an all or nothing proposition.
This contrasts with what happened during the Clinton years when Democrats worked closely with Republican leaders to craft mutually agreed upon frameworks for key issues such as welfare reform.
Democratic talking points regarding reconciliation point out the Republicans made regular use of the procedure that allows the Senate to expedite consideration of spending measures under limited rules of debate. As most people who have paid close attention to the debate know, Senators cannot filibuster reconciliation bills, and such measures can pass with 51 votes rather than the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster.
But these talking points completely ignore the fact Republicans usually gained some, even modest, Democratic support whenever they passed major legislation using reconciliation.
The 1996 welfare reform bill passed using reconciliation with the support of 25 Democrats, including Reid and now-Vice President Joe Biden.
Republican leaders worked closely with Democrats to get their support for welfare reform, unlike Harry Reid’s health care effort.
Even the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts that passed using reconciliation had more bipartisan support than Reid currently enjoys. According to the Congressional Record, 12 Democrats voted for the 2001 Bush tax cuts, and two voted for the 2003 tax cuts, which contrasts with Reid’s inability to get any Republican support for his health care bill.
Reid’s handling of the health care debate shows he must have never read Dale Carnegie’s famous book: “How To Win Friends and Influence People” because his leadership style has served to alienate Republicans by not taking their concerns seriously and arrogantly excluding them. As a result, he has turned them into “The Party of No.”
President Lyndon Johnson, by contrast, struck deals by earning the respect of even his most dire opponents and brokered countless bipartisan deals when he served as Senate majority leader.
A Jan. 22, 1958, Associated Press report shows the stark contrast between Johnson’s abilities and those of his current successor who has chosen to rule the Senate with a partisan clenched fist.
“He’s no firey zealot. He’s a compromiser. In a place of intense differences of opinion such as the Senate, compromise is a practical necessity,” the report said regarding the reason why Johnson was successful as Senate majority leader. “He pays attention to his fellow Senators of both parties … [and] every Senator in this place is indebted to him in some way for a favor or special consideration.”
The report also highlighted the fact Johnson, unlike Reid, spent very little time criticizing Republicans, so he could get things done without their resistance— a play directly out of the Dale Carnegie playbook that emphasizes the need to make even those you disagree with feel like part of the process. As a result, Johnson successfully passed a potentially divisive civil rights legislation without any filibusters.
Reid has himself to blame for the Republicans’ resistance because his authoritarian leadership style and unwillingness to include them in the process has alienated them, unlike Johnson who got things done by including Republicans in key decisions.
If Reid moves forward with reconciliation on the health care bill, it will mark the first time the tactic will have been used in a purely partisan manner to break a minority-party filibuster of major legislation since reconciliation emerged in 1974 as a deficit-reduction measure. It will also likely mark the first time it will have been used along a 100 percent party-line vote.
“Usually when a reconciliation measure moves, it’s not as a result of failing to pass a bill in the regular order—welfare reform, Bush tax cuts, Clinton tax measures all used reconciliation from the start,” said Heritage Foundation Senate expert Brian Darling. “This is the first time that reconciliation has been used to pass a bill that hasn’t even passed Congress yet.”
The use of reconciliation in this way also has a flavor of hypocrisy to it, considering Reid’s own condemnation of the Republican effort to end the Democratic filibuster of President Bush’s judicial nominees. The then-Senate minority leader condemned the planned GOP maneuver calling it “an abuse of power.”
Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.), two key Democratic senators who have played important roles crafting the Senate health care bill, have been on record in the past similarly condemning reconciliation as an abuse of power.
Baucus, the current Senate Finance Committee chairman, decried the Republican leadership’s use of reconciliation in a May 11, 2006, debate on the so-called Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005.
“With this bill, the majority has once again abused the process. With this bill, the majority has once again shown its disrespect for the rule of law,” Baucus said. “The Senate chose early on to limit the power to use budget reconciliation. The Senate saw early on that this power could be subject to abuse.
“I believe that, today, the majority is taking another step down the road of abusing the reconciliation process … And I thus believe that today the majority is once again cheapening the rule of law.”
Conrad, the current Senate Budget Committee chairman, similarly condemned the GOP’s use of reconciliation in an Apr. 2, 2001, debate on the first round of the Bush tax cuts, saying reconciliation short circuits the Senate’s role as “the cooling saucer, where calmer and cooler reflection could permit further analysis.”
“All of that is out the window, and the Senate becomes a second House of Representatives,” Conrad said.
However, Conrad and Baucus have reversed their prior opposition to reconciliation and have embraced Reid’s plans to use it to pass health care reform.
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist says the Democrats change of heart on reconciliation is part of their larger about face on ethics and transparency, and is symptomatic of their inability to govern.
“Reconciliation is what you do instead of being bipartisan. With 59 or 60 Democrat Senators it is particularly revealing that the Democrats have retreated to reconciliation,” Norquist said.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines incompetence as the “inability to manage one’s affairs,” and clearly Harry Reid’s inability or unwillingness to follow Lyndon Johnson’s example fits the bill.
John Rossomando is a journalist whose work has been featured in numerous publications such as CNSNews.com, Newsmax and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.