Dems cannot take shortcuts on passing health care reform

March 19, 2010 — by Vijay Menon and Abhishek Venkataramana

Upon taking office, President Barack Obama promised to transcend “politics as usual” and reform Washington to promote bipartisanship. After more than a year of his presidency, Obama has fallen short on many of his ambitious campaign promises.

He has relegated immigration reform to the back burner, failed to end the War in Afghanistan and floundered in his attempts to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Obama’s biggest failure, however, has been his inability to implement a system of universal health care for the 47 million uninsured American citizens.
Any progress on health care has reached a standstill in both the House and the Senate, where rivalry between the Democrats and the Republicans has eliminated any chance of a health care bill passing anytime soon. However, under pressure to get a health care bill passed, Obama is pressing lawmakers to ram the bill through Congress using hasty legislative methods, including but not limited to a procedure known as “reconciliation.” The shortcut would allow Obama’s health care proposals to be rolled into a budget bill that cannot be filibustered and requires only a simple majority.
Attempting to skirt the normal legislative voting process is clearly a flawed solution for several reasons. Instead, Obama should focus on the quality of the bill, rather than simply trying to pass a shoddy bill without bipartisan support simply for the sake of doing something.
For example, a bill passed through reconciliation would violate the original intent of the mechanism, which was established in 1974 to “reconcile” tax and spending laws with the budget, not for passing substantiative legislation. Democrats are attempting to violate this intention by passing major health care reform, simply to avoid a debate with the Republicans.
In doing so, they are transgressing the system of checks and balances this country was founded upon. Senate rules and procedures give the minority party senators the power to slow or even stop legislation to promote partisanship between the two parties. However, by attempting to use reconciliation simply to quickly pass a controversial and strictly partisan bill, the Democrats are egregiously abusing this policy and setting a bad precedent for future lawmakers.
Furthermore, passing a bill without mutual support would irrevocably isolate Democrats and Republicans and intensify already tangible tensions between the parties. Republicans are staunchly opposed to universal health care because they believe it would essentially amount to government controlled “socialized medicine” and it would be financed by higher taxes and Medicare cuts.
However, if a shortcut were to be utilized and the Health Care bill passed through simple majority, Republican legislators would be left infuriated and vengeful, precluding any chances of necessary legislation being passed later on. The welfare of future reform bills would be grim indeed. Even more devastatingly, it would bode poorly for the 2010 Congressional elections, causing unnecessary stress among Democrats—people who will be most unceremoniously shoved into the place of America’s villain.
But perhaps the most important reason to oppose a shortcut method such as reconciliation is the lack of quality of the overall bill. By attempting to bypass normal legislation through this loophole, a $2.5 trillion bill, unsupported by the majority of American citizens and still containing many flaws, would be inevitably passed through Congress. Furthermore, because only a simple majority will be required to pass the bill, debate would be shelved early, resulting in a lack of provisions such as incentivized pay for doctors and a robust public option, all items promised by Obama that the American people deserve in any significant health care overhaul.
Understandably, Americans are impatient over health care reform, but constructive debate and quality of reform cannot be sacrificed simply for the sake of rushing a bill through Congress. A bill passed through methods that bypass the normal legislative process is not the panacea to America’s health care woes and the president must look to foster bipartisan support before attempting to pass significant reform.