My November 6, 2009 "Reconciliation" Letter to the Editor

Commentary by Timothy Horrigan; March 22, 2010

I probably should have put this Letter to the Editor on the web site earlier, like maybe back in early November 2009 when it was published in the Dover, NH Foster's Daily Democrat. It was in response to a rant by a local Tea Bagger named Sue Polidura, who is a leader of the tiny Republican Party in the heavily Democratic city of Portsmouth. She was up in arms over the possibility that the Senate might have to use a procedure called "reconciliation" to get a healthcare reform bill passed. Reconciliation is a procedure usually used for budget bills which allows the Senate to pass a bill by a simple majority without any 60-40 cloture votes to open and close debate.

The Senate's healthcare bill was in fact passed by a 60-40 vote on Christmas Eve 2009, back when the Democrats still held Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat.

The House ended up using reconciliation in March 2010: they concurred with the Senate bill on March 21, while using reconciliation to pass a package of amendments which the Senate supports by a simple majority of just 59 out of 100. This is messy, but it is all perfectly constitutional.

Here is my letter which appeared in the November 9 Foster's:

Clarifying the Constitution

To the editor: Sue Polidura of Portsmouth [November 2, 2009 Letters to the Editors column] was outraged by the possibility that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might try to get a health care bill passed with less than 60 senators. She implies that this is unconstitutional. However, the Constitution states that the United States Senate can pass bills with a simple majority.

The famous 60 percent supermajority is mentioned nowhere in the Constitution. There are a few special cases where a 2/3 supermajority is required, but it is perfectly constitutional to pass a health care reform bill with 51 votes out of 100. The reason everyone thinks we need 60 votes to get a bill passed through the Senate is because of a "cloture" rule which allows debate to continue until 60 senators vote to close the debate. It is not against Senate rules for a senator to vote for cloture and then go on to vote against the bill itself. In some cases (and I think the health care debate is one of those cases) it is unconstitutional for the Senate to refuse to have an up-or-down vote on a finished bill which has already been fully debated in committee and on the floor.

Ms. Polidura claimed that Sen. Reid was going to use a parliamentary maneuver called "reconciliation" which was "originally conceived to break a tie vote." The procedure for breaking a tie vote is in fact spelled out in the Constitution: Article I Section 3 states: "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided." Notice that it says that he or she votes only if the Senate is equally divided, which currently means 50 votes on each side. Vice President Biden will not be able to change a 60-40 vote to 60-41 (or to 61-40) — although he could be called on to break a 50-50 tie.

Timothy Horrigan


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And here is the letter I was replying to, which appeared in the November 2 Foster's:

Closed door health care reform?

To the editor: Last week, the Senate finance committee decided to vote on a health care bill to move it out of committee and be discussed by the rest of the senate. The problem with that is; that there was no bill!

Our legislators continue to disrespect voters not only by voting for bills they haven't read, but they have added insult to injury by voting for bills that do not exist. If fact, the final bill is going to be a conglomerate of five different bills in the Senate currently being compiled —behind closed doors- by Senate leader Harry Reid (D) Nevada, and his lobbyists and special advisers.

Their goal is to pass a bill through in two weeks; once again attempting to pass legislation under cover of darkness and push it through before we get an opportunity to know what is in it. Furthermore, Harry Reid is threatening to use a procedure called "reconciliation" to pass this legislation which would only require 50 votes in the senate instead of the 60 necessary for passing. This procedure is also known as the "nuclear option" which was originally conceived to break a tie vote but was not intended to circumvent the voting rules of the Senate.

I seem to remember candidate Obama making a pledge for transparency by posting bills online for 72 hours so, we the voters, would have ample opportunity to review their content. Apparently, that promise was quickly forgotten and now this concept doesn't seem to fit the template for his agenda. In the end, it seems we elected just another "typical politician" who forgets about his promises not soon after he walks away from his teleprompter.

Sue Polidura


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See Also:

The Forgotten Liars by Timothy Horrigan