Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reconciliation explanation fail, cont.

Recently Jonathan Chait called out The New York Times for failing to spell out that the Democrats are not trying to pass their whole health care bill through reconciliation, but rather to use reconciliation to "patch" the Senate bill:
Now that they've lost the ability to break a filibuster, Democrats plan to have the House pass the Senate bill, and then use reconciliation to enact changes to the Senate bill demanded by the House. These changes -- higher subsidy levels, different kinds of taxes to pay for them, nixing the Nebraska Medicaid deal -- mainly involve taxes and spending. In other words, they're exactly the kinds of policies that are well-suited for reconciliation.

It's not just The Hill that misses the distinction, but the whole political media. Here's Sunday's New York Times:
Many Democrats in Congress said they doubted that it was feasible to pass a major health care bill with a parliamentary tool called reconciliation, which is used to speed adoption of budget and tax legislation. Reconciliation requires only 51 votes for passage in the Senate, but entails procedural and political risks.
Again, using reconciliation to patch up the Senate bill is a totally different thing than using it to pass an entire health care bill. I can understand why Republicans would treat them as identical -- they're spinning for partisan purposes. Reporters covering this issue have no good excuse.

Today, it's The Wall Street Journal that fails in this basic bit of exposition in its report on Obama's health care proposal:

Democrats are considering bypassing Republican filibuster attempts in the Senate, which take 60 votes to allow a bill to be voted upon. Instead Democrats plan to use a process called "reconciliation" to try to pass the bill. Bills advanced through the process can't be filibustered, so it only takes a majority to pass them.

The chances of reconciliation succeeding remain iffy. House Democrats passed their version of a health overhaul in November by a narrow 220-215 margin, and some of the yes votes are uncertain now that some House lawmakers don't like aspects of the Senate bill. In the Senate, the procedure carries political risks and Republicans could use delaying tactics.

White House aides said the proposal keeps the best features of the Senate bill, while making insurance more affordable for lower- and middle-income Americans. It would extend insurance to about 31 million Americans by providing them with tax credits to offset the cost of coverage and expanding the Medicaid federal-state insurance program.

"Starting from scratch doesn't make sense," said White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, rejecting Republican calls to begin again.
"Not starting from scratch" means that the House passes the Senate bill and then passes something resembling Obama's package of adjustments through reconciliation.

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