JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 4, 2010
The conservative hysteria over the prospect of using budget reconciliation to approve relatively minor budget-related changes to the health care bill has been a bizarre spectacle. The rhetoric is near-apocalyptic (Wall Street Journal editorial headline: "Abuse Of Power") yet the effects of this legislation are so minor. It's not like conservatives think the Senate bill is just fine, but the reconciliation changes would be Socialism. Would they really be less upset if the House just passed the Senate bill, and didn't change it through reconciliation?
Rich Lowry, to his credit, recognizes the point:
Only The House Vote Matters
This is an important point. I don't think people understand that reconciliation isn't really that important except as a promise to members of the House. Even Charles Krauthammer, if I understood him correctly, said last night that he thinks the bill will pass the House but fail during the reconciliation process. But if the bill passes the House, the same bill has passed the Senate and the House and Obama can just sign the thing. It won't matter if the reconciliation process bogs down, except to those Democrats who thought the bill would be "fixed." But once they've voted, they've voted. Obama can say, "See you in the Rose Garden and we'll try to fix it next year."
I had assumed that Republicans realized this. The fuss over reconciliation is merely a disingenuous attempt to cast process-based aspersions on legislation that they really only object to on substantive grounds, and thus the insistent claims that Democrats plan to pass health care reform through reconciliation are a calculated lie.
But Lowry's post suggests what strikes me as a more plausible explanation, namely, the Republicans actually believe the whole health care bill is going to be passed through reconciliation. One of my guidelines to understanding the world is, when confronted with strange behavior, never assume malice when ignorance is available as an explanation.