New York Times Editorial: Refereeing the Health Care Debate
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: March 5, 2010
Even before the health care showdown begins, Republican lawmakers have begun questioning the fairness of the Senate parliamentarian, the obscure but well respected career expert who must referee from the wings when points are challenged in floor debate.
The Republicans have done a great deal in the cause of obstructionism, but it’s patently absurd to pick on the lawyerly, apolitical Alan Frumin. He has worked in the office for 33 years and has been accepted by both Republican and Democratic majorities to be the arbiter when appeals were made to Senate rules and tradition.
No one will envy the parliamentarian if the Democrats use the reconciliation process to restore majority rule — 51 votes for approval — on health care reform and foil endless Republican demands for 60-vote supermajorities. Reconciliation was created in 1974 as a budgetary prod and to restrain demagogic filibusters.
The Republicans used it repeatedly when they held the majority — notably to pass the previous Bush administration’s huge upper-bracket tax cuts that helped balloon the budget deficits that are suddenly such a concern to the same Republicans.
“Is there something wrong with majority rules?” asked Senator Judd Gregg when he was in the Republican majority opposing a Democratic filibuster to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling. Now Mr. Gregg denounces reconciliation as an underhanded violation of the will of the people.
He insists that it has never been used for installing such a sweeping program. But that is not true. The health care bill has already been approved by a 60-vote majority. The coming debate will be over amendments. Beyond that, reconciliation was a tool in such major changes as welfare reform, children’s health insurance and the balanced budget mandates of the 1990s.
Mr. Frumin is not the issue. The true issue is whether the long-delayed effort to reform health care will rise or fall on the merits.