16 March 2010

It Is A Descent Into Something ...

Financial Times: A needed reform descends into farce

Specialists – let alone ordinary voters – struggle to remember the differences between the Senate bill, the House bill, and the president’s unfinished merged proposal. In the last big push to get reform through, using whatever deals, scams, ruses and parliamentary evasions fall to hand, the public and their concerns are pushed ever more to the periphery of Washington’s vision.

The White House is supporting reconciliation – a procedure that allows the Senate to accept revisions to its bill by simple majority. This defeats the Republican filibuster. It also complicates the parliamentary process, since not all provisions are allowed under reconciliation.

Already beyond abstruse, now in the realm of surreal farce, the debate is thus becoming yet more inward-looking and unintelligible. Can language on abortion be included in a reconciliation measure? (Probably not.) Can the Senate parliamentarian be overruled? (What is the Senate parliamentarian?) All that is missing is a speech in favour of the plan by Groucho Marx. Recovering voters’ respect for the outcome, even assuming the outcome is good, looks an ever more distant prospect.

Under reconciliation, first the House must pass the Senate bill; then both chambers pass the reconciliation measure. Despite their big majority, House Democrats have not mustered the votes. They worry that if they pass the Senate bill, Senate Democrats will renege on their yet-to-be-obtained promise to pass the measure that modifies it.

So this plan, solidly opposed by Republicans, is struggling to command sufficient support even in the president’s own party, whose two Congressional branches do not trust each other to co-operate. This is the same plan, you recall, that the public will come around to in due course. Democrats facing tight elections are right to worry that “in due course” might be a long time. It is hard to see how the public will forget this mess between now and November.

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