In trying to pass their radical health care overhaul, President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now are channeling the tactics of Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little from the movie “Blazing Saddles.” Opponents and fence-sitters alike should not fall for their tricks.
The Democratic leaders’ “Blazing Saddles” hocus-pocus comes via their proposal to use the rare parliamentary maneuver of “reconciliation” to force their health care takeover into law. As currently described, the reconciliation plans are a charade.
It’s like this: Toward the end of “Blazing Saddles,” Messrs. Little and Wilder convince the townspeople to build an entirely fake town of plywood storefronts, luring their opponents into the climactic fight in a place where the real town wouldn’t be damaged. Likewise, all the focus on reconciliation is intended to keep the takeover bill pristine by directing attention on a false battle. Opponents can fight all day on reconciliation, and Mr. Obama still wins.
To listen to the current debate, one would think the big question is whether the Senate is going to use reconciliation - in other words, to pass the overhaul with only a 51-vote simple majority in the Senate, rather than the 60 votes usually needed to overcome a filibuster. But as now anticipated, the reconciliation procedure would be used not on the main health care bill, but only on a companion bill to “fix” the areas of House and Senate disagreement. The problem is that by that time, opponents will have already lost.
To make the reconciliation gambit work, the House has to pass the existing Senate bill as is. Then, immediately, the House would pass the smaller bill of “fixes” meant for a reconciliation vote in the Senate. The Senate would then take up that second House-passed “fix,” pass it with 51 votes, and then the two bills would be sent to the president for signature.
In the Senate, Republican after Republican has vowed to do everything humanly possible to block that historically unprecedented use of reconciliation, which originally was meant for budgetary savings rather than for substantive policy changes. They promise a real donnybrook.
Well, there was a real donnybrook in “Blazing Saddles,” too. The Klan and the Mexican bandits and the gangsters rode into the fake town, and some of the townspeople gave them a real brawl. But it was under false pretenses. The buildings being protected weren’t real. Nor will be the reconciliation bill.
After a huge and messy fight, the Republican opponents may even win the reconciliation battle. Ten or more Democrats may wax eloquent about the need to maintain harmony in the Senate and denounce the unwise use of reconciliation rules for such a major overhaul. And why shouldn’t they? They win either way. If the Senate refuses to pass the second bill through reconciliation, the first bill already will have been passed by Congress, and will remain passed, regardless. President Obama can sign it into law with a flourish, no matter what the Senate does on the smaller bill with its fixes.
House members who object to the Senate provisions that provide public funding for abortion, and who voted for the main bill only upon assurances that the reconciliation bill would eliminate that funding, would be left paying the tab. So, too, would the country be stuck with the sleazy deals used to pass the Senate bill in the first place, such as the special provisions now known as “the Cornhusker Kickback” and “the Louisiana Purchase.” So, too, would all the Senate bill’s new taxes become law (including a new “marriage penalty”), and also the new unfunded mandates for state Medicaid costs, plus the controversial “federal health bill” that lets bureaucrats determine Medicare policy.
Even liberal Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat, called that last Senate idea “stupid at best, childish, unworkable, idiotic.” But the House, and the country, could be stuck with it if it tries the reconciliation two-step.
Likewise for those who are attracted to the reconciliation bill because it may contain Republican ideas, such as health savings accounts or special health courts to cut down on lawsuit abuse. Likewise, on the other end of the political spectrum, for those liberals who voted for the bill expecting the reconciliation package to provide for a “public option” (government-managed) health plan. The health care overhaul would become law, without a specific public option.
That’s why the only fight that matters is the House struggle over the original Senate bill. If it passes, the gig is up, the battle lost. And the “blazing saddles” will be ridden by an extremely angry American public looking for revenge on the politicians who took their health care freedom away.
Quin Hillyer is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Times.