To most people, the word "reconciliation" means settling a fight. In Congress, it means starting one! This seldom-used budget process has become the center of attention for weeks, as GOP leaders try to tackle two of the most controversial uses of government money: Planned Parenthood and ObamaCare. Although reconciliation isn't used often, it is a powerful tool for the majority party to jump some of the procedural hurdles in the Senate on budgetary issues.
Unlike regular order, reconciliation fast-tracks the debate by setting a lower threshold for passing a measure in the Senate: 51 votes versus the 60 normally required. Since Republicans don't have enough votes to single-handedly topple the President's health care law or pull the plug on the half-billion taxpayer dollars for Planned Parenthood, reconciliation is the GOP's best shot. While reconciliation can't be used to repeal all of ObamaCare or completely end sever ties with Cecile Richards's group, it'll go a long way to accomplishing both. Even if President Obama vetoes the measure, a majority of Congress will have spoken. For once, the White House will stand alone in its extreme support of the health care law and Planned Parenthood.
As early as tomorrow morning, the House will be taking the first pass at this strategy when a floor vote is held on the "Restoring Americans' Health Care Freedom Reconciliation Act" (or H.R. 3762). Unfortunately, not everyone is on board with the plan, including some outside conservative groups. They argue that reconciliation doesn't go far enough. Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, they claim that nothing but a full repeal of ObamaCare should even be considered. Polling shows that a majority of Americans dislike the government takeover of health and would like nothing more than to say good riddance. Right now, there aren't enough votes to make that happen -- which leaves reconciliation as the best and most viable option. Congressional Quarterly explains it this way:
"A Senate rule named for the late Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) permits challenges to reconciliation bills on several grounds, including if they could add to the deficit in the years outside the 10-year budget window. A separate concern, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said, is the parliamentarian's interpretation as to whether certain language in the reconciliation bill makes it lose its privileged status, which sets a simple majority vote threshold for consideration rather than the customary 60."
Because reconciliation is an expedited process, the provisions are subject to very strict rules. One of them is that trying to tackle anything beyond the budgetary aspects of these two proposals jeopardize the entire effort. The fact that conservative Senators may wish the House bill did more -- like repealing the premium subsidies in Obamacare -- shouldn't be used as an excuse to vote "no." Instead, it should embolden conservative senators to offer amendments during the reconciliation debate to improve the bill's ObamaCare repeal.
In the end, it's important to get these two issues -- a partial dismantling of ObamaCare and a partial end to taxpayer-funding of Planned Parenthood through the House and Senate and onto the President's desk. If it succeeds, Congress can go back when the next President arrives and eliminate the rest.