Legal measures shouldn’t be abused

Cameron Witbeck

Anyone who has been paying attention to the ongoing health care reform debate in Washington has probably heard of the dramatically named reconciliation process; however, very few people know exactly what it is or what it entails.

While congressional operating procedure is admittedly a proverbial labyrinth of precedents and vague rules, the implementation of reconciliation in a health care bill, as implied by House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, would be fundamentally undemocratic and inappropriate.

According to www.congress.org, a nonpartisan Web site, the reconciliation process was created to expedite the Senate’s budgetary process. It protects revenue legislation proposed by the majority party from a minority initiated filibuster, which is a tactic that seeks to “kill” a bill by taking up time until debate is exhausted.

Legislation is generally passed in the Senate by a simple majority of the 100 U.S. Senators, or 51 “yes” votes, but it takes 60 votes to end a filibuster. In the reconciliation process, contentious clauses or issues can only be debated for 20 hours, which effectively bans filibusters.

USA Today reports that the most likely implementation of the process would take place if the Senate’s health care bill is both voted for by the House and signed by the president. Both chambers of Congress would then have to pass a reconciliation bill that would feature changes to the already passed bill.

As previously stated, reconciliation is meant to deal with budgetary issues. The Senate has, however, enacted laws in the past that extended beyond that purview, like the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1985, which, in part, said that employers had to continue to provide health insurance for former employees.

A March 9 Gallup poll showed that 48 percent of Americans oppose a health care plan similar to the one proposed by President Obama, with only 45 percent in favor. If a reconciliation bill is passed, it makes the changes that the majority of people oppose, and it will be in direct violation of the trust and legitimacy that we, as voters, give lawmakers. The will of the majority and the will of the majority party are two very separate things and in a representative democracy such as the United States. Our lawmakers should be striving to reflect that.

Despite the president’s remarks that “the time for talk is over,” the representatives in Congress should continue discussing how health care reform will affect the American people and listening to their constituents. They should not be trying to find loopholes that will allow them to accomplish party-centric goals. This is also true of the Republicans, as they have been responsible for the majority of reconciliation bills since the inception of the concept in 1974.

While the principle of reconciliation has its place in the legislative process, as does filibustering, it should only be used as intended, and not abused. Legislators should not attempt to use it as a tool to accomplish goals simply because they have a majority. They should instead engage in a practice of diplomacy and compromise that reflects the true will of the people, as it is to the voters, not the parties, that legislators are accountable.