Thursday, March 04, 2010

Reconciling the press to reconciliation

In the weeks since the Massachusetts election, Jonathan Chait and Ezra Klein have quite rightly been driven bats by news accounts that fail to make clear that the Democratic leadership is not trying to pass a complete health reform package through reconciliation, but rather to use the process only to amend the Senate bill. They have both spelled out the distinction clearly enough for a child to understand more than once.

Schooled by Chait, Klein, Jonathan Cohn and the sources they link to --particularly a short  piece by Brookings' Henry Aaron finding that using reconciliation to adjust the funding and spending in the Senate bill is precisely in line with the process's intended purpose --  I have been on a bit of a campaign, writing directly to reporters and editors when articles appear online that fail to spell out that reconciliation will be used only to patch the Senate bill (if hcr passes at all).  These letters have so far induced three national and international publications to clarify and amplify their explanations.

In addition, I took to task (in a blog post and letter) for obscuring the distinction by citing an April 2009 Brookings paper exploring the possible use of reconciliation to pass the entire HCR passage to imply that the reconciliation 'patch' now contemplated would be "the most ambitious use to date of this filibuster-avoiding maneuver."  In its "mailbag," Factcheck has acknowledged the point -- and so has Brookings: responds: We spoke to Thomas Mann, co-author of the Brookings/American Enterprise Institute report we cited, and he agrees. "We argued last year that reconciliation legitimately could be used for health reform, but that it would be ambitious, difficult and partial, given the constraints of the process," Mann told us. "Its much more limited use this year, adding amendments after the bill itself has passed following a successful cloture vote, is very modest and unquestionably legitimate." We have updated the story accordingly, and Brookings plans to update its article within a few days.   

Meanwhile, as Obama has removed any doubt that he wants the Democrats to move forward with the House passing the Senate bill with a reconciliation patch, stories that fail to clarify how reconciliation may be used are getting much rarer.

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