If you have the patience to get through the set-up, which takes up half of this extraordinarily foolish column, you will reach Brooks’ point — he is concerned that using reconciliation to pass health care reform destroys the “spirit of sympathy” and the “person-to-person relationships” that make the Senate so much more “humane” than the House:
For decades, individual senators have resisted their leaders’ attempts to run the Senate like the House and destroy these relationships and these humane customs. A few years ago, when Republican leaders tried to pass judicial nominations on party-line votes, rank-and-file members like Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton spoke out forcefully against rule by simple majority.
But power trumps principle. In nearly every arena of political life, group relationships have replaced person-to-person relationships. The tempo of the Senate is now set by partisan lunches every Tuesday, whereas the body almost never meets for conversation as a whole. The Senate is now in the process of using reconciliation — rule by simple majority — to try to pass health care.
Reconciliation has been used with increasing frequency. That was bad enough. But at least for the Bush tax cuts or the prescription drug bill, there was significant bipartisan support. Now we have pure reconciliation mixed with pure partisanship.
Once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity.
As Doug points out at Balloon Juice, Brooks has shown precious little sympathy for the many victims of torture and unjustified “preventive” war over the eight years of the previous administration.
But let’s set that aside for now and take a closer look at that “significant bipartisan support” for the legislation that former Pres. Bush put through reconciliation. First, Ezra Klein:
The factual statements Brooks uses in his argument are wrong. Not arguable, or questionable, or suspicious. Wrong. And since everything else flows from those wrong facts, the rest of the column can’t be taken seriously.”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.” The outcome of letting reconciliation go from rare and bipartisan to common and partisan is that we will go from a Senate where “people are usually pretty decent to one another” to a Senate that “bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy.”
Chilling stuff, huh?
But none of Brooks’s evidence is true. Literally none of it. The budget reconciliation process was used six times between 1980 and 1989. It was used four times between 1990 and 1999. It was used five times between 2000 and 2009. And it has been used zero times since 2010. Peak reconciliation use, in other words, was in the ’80s, not the Aughts. The data aren’t hard to find. They were published on Brooks’s own op-ed page.
Nor has reconciliation been limited to bills with “significant bipartisan support.” To use Brooks’s example of the tax cuts, the 2003 tax cuts passed the Senate 50-50, with Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote. Two Democrats joined with the Republicans in that effort. Georgia’s Zell Miller, who would endorse George W. Bush in 2004 and effectively leave the Democratic Party, and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson. So I’d say that’s one Democrat. One Democrat alongside 49 Republicans. That’s not significant bipartisan support.
Matthew Yglesias has some thoughts on the whole subject of obsessing about process:
Truly the last refuge of the damned is to complain about the nature of the congressional procedure that the majority is using to pass its agenda. Everyone knows that 100 percent of the people who like the underlying health care bill will approve of the use of the procedural mechanisms necessary to enact it, whereas 100 percent of the process-objectors will also be people who don’t like the bill.
The closer goes to Ezra:
… Reconciliation is, in fact, being used less frequently, past reconciliation bills like the tax cuts were not significantly bipartisan by any stretch of the imagination, and the prescription drug benefit did not go through reconciliation. Brooks isn’t wrong in the sense that “I disagree with him.” He’s wrong in the sense that the column requires a correction.