Former U.S. Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., says President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders are threatening to misuse a legislative procedure known as “budget reconciliation” to jam a massive national healthcare bill through Congress.
On Thursday, Obama reportedly made clear he wants budget reconciliation language included in the budget due on his desk by April 29 to move healthcare reform forward. That maneuver means the bill could pass with a simple majority instead of the 60 votes usually required to avoid a filibuster, Politico reports.
“This decision is a deeply troublesome attempt to circumvent the normal and customary workings of American democracy,” Sununu explained in Monday’s Wall Street Journal.
“It's a radical departure from congressional precedent, in which budget rules have been designed and used to reduce deficits, not expand the size of government. And it promises bitter divisiveness under an administration that has made repeated promises to reach across the partisan divide.”
Sununu, whom Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed to serve on the congressional oversight panel for the TARP funds, notes that the power of a reconciliation bill is that Senate rules allow it as part of the annual congressional budget and not as a separate piece of legislation.
As a separate measure, national healthcare legislation would be open to bipartisan debate and across-the-aisle negotiations. As part of the reconciliation budget, it would require only 20 hours of debate in the Senate and then passage with a simple majority of votes.
“This represents a lightning strike in the normal deliberative time-frame of the Senate,” Sununu wrote in the Journal. “The historic precedents of open debate, and the requirement of 60 votes to close debate, are completely short-circuited.”
But Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag told ABC News the administration would prefer not to use budget reconciliation to push through a national healthcare package.
"We have to keep everything on the table,” Orszag says. “We want to get these . . . important things done this year."
Sununu counters that budget reconciliation was never intended to push through “dramatic and expansive new programs.” Instead, it was meant “to help a reluctant Congress curb spending, reduce deficits, and cut the debt.
“Moreover, changes made under reconciliation expire after five or 10 years, depending on the budget. This is clearly not the appropriate process for implementing significant new policies.”
Obama’s threat to misuse reconciliation to drive his national healthcare program destroys any incentive for good-faith negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, Sununu wrote, noting that it undermines him on two counts: It shows a lack of confidence in his ability to pass an agenda using the regular legislative order. It exposes his limited experience with the history, traditions and temperament of the U.S. Congress.
“The president's message is clear,” Sununu concluded. “He wants to include reconciliation as an option in case he doesn't like the way discussions are going.”
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