For the Last Time, David Brooks: Reconciliation Is not Being Used to Pass Health Care Reform

David Brooks must not read Newsweek. Or the Washington Post. Or The New Republic. Or, apparently, his own newspaper. Brooks, it seems, has not read any of those publications' explications of how a bill becomes law, and he has written an entire column based on his misunderstanding.

Brooks opens with a ramble on human nature as social beings, decries groups that (Godwin's law alert), "see members of another group as less than human: Nazi and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi, Sunni and Shiite," and then compares that to the way Senate Democrats are treating Republicans. A little confused?

So was I, until I realized Brooks was talking about the use of the budget-reconciliation process, which is totally like genocide, except for the whole mass murder part. "Until recently," explains Professor Brooks, "the Senate leaders couldn't just ram things through on party-line votes. Because a simple majority did not rule." Brooks should fire his fact-checker. The Constitution says that the Senate can pass legislation with a majority, and only needs a supermajority to override a presidential veto. In recent decades there has been a procedure called the filibuster, which was sometimes used in extreme situations to block or delay controversial legislation, like civil rights. Whether or not Brooks is right that this was a good thing, he is simply wrong to pretend that majority rule was an unusual maneuver. In fact, it was how most legislation passed, until filibuster use accelerated in recent years, and exploded once Republicans found themselves in the minority in 2007.

"The Senate is now in the process of using reconciliation—rule by simple majority—to try to pass health care," writes Brooks. False. The Senate, having already passed health-care reform, is now using reconciliation to make the changes necessary to reconcile the version they already passed by supermajority with the version passed by the House. Health-care reform, as the various writers that Brooks should be reading have explained, is not being passed through reconciliation. A sidecar of amendments to health-care reform would be passed that way. This, I might add, could be done in conference committee and the conference report passed under normal rules if Ted Kennedy had not died.

So, Brooks thinks the tragedy of Kennedy's death justifies blocking the will of the remaining 59 senators on Kennedy's side. And if you disagree, you're just a Nazi-Hutu-Sunni bully.

"Reconciliation has been used with increasing frequency," writes Brooks. "That was bad enough. But at least for the Bush tax cuts or the prescription-drug bill, there was significant bipartisan support." False, false, and false. As Ezra Klein points out, reconciliation has not been used with increasing frequency in recent years. It was used roughly the same number of times in each of the past three decades (and technically peaked in the 1980s). The 2003 Bush tax cuts did not have "significant bipartisan support," unless you think Zell Miller and Ben Nelson constitute a significant number of Democrats, and the prescription-drug bill—because it had bipartisan support—passed under normal rules.

The kicker: "We have a political culture in which the word 'reconciliation' has come to mean 'bitter division,' " intones Brooks. Well, if the parties are bitterly divided over the issue at hand, then, yes, the legitimate mechanisms used by one party to block legislation (say, the filibuster), or pass it (say, reconciliation) will be the locus of those divisions. But I see little evidence that it is the mechanisms themselves causing those divisions. Certainly, Brooks's claim that under the filibuster "because one senator had the ability to bring the whole body to a halt, senators had an incentive, every day, to develop alliances and relationships with people in the other party," seems to have broken down in recent years. The truth is that the parties represent increasingly coherent ideological blocs, and thus they feud. That's democracy. Just ask the Shiites and Sunnis.

For the Last Time, David Brooks: Reconciliation Is not Being Used to Pass Health Care Reform | News