Over the last year, we've posted 148 stories on the Daily Kos front page discussing reconciliation, the legislative process through which the Senate can pass legislation by a simple majority. The Daily Kos community has posted another 1,407 diaries discussing the topic, most of them supportive of using reconciliation.
Even though there is ample precedent for using reconciliation to pass top legislative priorities -- George W. Bush passed his tax cuts through reconciliation -- Democratic leadership in the Senate and the White House pretty much took reconciliation off the table during the health care debate, arguing that we just didn't understand the legislative process. Reconciliation, they said, wasn't the most effective way to pass legislation. In their eyes, the standard Senate rulebook was the smarter approach, and as a result we got saddled with the 60-vote supermajority requirement.
We don't know yet what impact that decision will have on the outcome of today's election in Massachusetts. Even though Brown appears favored in polls, Coakley might still win. And given that Massachusetts already has health care reform on the state level, it might not be right to look at what voters do there through the prism of health care reform at the national level.
But win or lose, it's inarguable that the Democratic leadership made this election important through their decision to take reconciliation off the table and thereby accept the supermajority requirement in the Senate. In so doing, they put their weight behind a legislative process that could be thwarted with just 41 Republican senators. That might not have seemed like a high-risk proposition given that there were
60 Democratic senators 60 senators in the Democratic caucus at the time they made the decision, but as we now know, it was foolish to assume there would always be 60 Democratic senators.
Even setting aside the fact that the 60-vote requirement weakened the health reform bill by allowing the Liebermans and Lincolns of the world to force President Obama to abandon priorities like the public option, we now see the enormity of the mistake leadership made in rejecting reconciliation. Because Scott Brown represents the key 41st vote to block supermajority rule in the Senate, he was able to raise millions of dollars online from right-wing activists who also volunteered their time in Massachusetts. Even worse, the decision to forgo reconciliation put veto power in the hands of a state with about 2% of the nation's population, voters who already enjoy health care reform and whose votes today will probably have less to do with health care than the general state of the nation and their commonwealth.
If Coakley does manage to scrape by today, the Democratic leadership who decided to reject reconciliation will get lucky. Hopefully, they'll recognize that their decision placed President Obama's agenda in grave peril, but at least they will have escaped, if only for the moment.
If Brown wins, however, the decision to reject reconciliation will come crashing down on them. It will be the first serious political crisis of the Obama era, and it will be one entirely of their own making.
It's not clear whether Democrats in Washington, DC understand the gravity of the situation. Yesterday, an anonymous administration aide argued to Politico that a Coakley loss would be good politically:
"Now everything that gets done in the Senate will have the imprimatur of bipartisanship," another administration official said. "The benefits of that will accrue to the president and the Democratic Senate. It adds to the pressure on Republicans to participate in the process in a meaningful way, which so far they have refused to do."
What a staggeringly stupid thing to say. If we've learned nothing else over the last year, it should be that Republicans will not work with Democrats on anything, let alone health care. To pretend otherwise would be foolish.
Nonetheless, when we argued that reconciliation would be the most effective legislative vehicle for Democrats to use and that they should use it aggressively, we were told we were fools -- fools that just didn't understand the complicated realities of making laws.
Well, it's true that reconciliation isn't a perfect legislative vehicle. But it would have been good enough. And yet we are the ones who got told not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
So tell me, how has that worked out?