Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sleight of Wrath

Ezra Klein takes the chainsaw to a David Brooks column, calling it a column that "can't be taken seriously" due to some alleged factual inaccuracies. Klein pounces on this paragraph (on the use of reconciliation to pass health-care "reform" in the Senate):
Reconciliation has been used with increasing frequency. That was bad enough. But at least for the Bush tax cuts or the prescription drug bill, there was significant bipartisan support. Now we have pure reconciliation mixed with pure partisanship.
Klein rightfully points out that the Medicare prescription drug reform under Bush was not passed via reconciliation (you mean you can pass major health-care-related measures without using reconciliation!?).

However, if Klein's going to attack Brooks on the matter of facts, he had best be sure his own facts are right. Well, check out this math:
The budget reconciliation process was used six times between 1980 and 1989. It was used four times between 1990 and 1999. It was used five times between 2000 and 2009. And it has been used zero times since 2010.
So Klein says, which suggests that reconciliation has been used 15 times since 1980. However, it seems as though reconciliation has been used 22 times. Klein's missing some reconciliation votes here. (However, there is some weight to his broader point that reconciliation was used the most in the 1980s. It was used heavily there but mostly for---I don't know---the reconciliation of budgetary issues.)

Klein also has a slight rhetorical sleight of hand in this claim:
Nor has reconciliation been limited to bills with "significant bipartisan support." To use Brooks's example of the tax cuts, the 2003 tax cuts passed the Senate 50-50, with Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote. Two Democrats joined with the Republicans in that effort. Georgia's Zell Miller, who would endorse George W. Bush in 2004 and effectively leave the Democratic Party, and Nebraska's Ben Nelson. So I'd say that's one Democrat. One Democrat alongside 49 Republicans. That's not significant bipartisan support.
OK, but that's only the 2003 tax cut bill. The 2001 tax cut bill passed 58-33, with a thoroughly bipartisan majority. Brooks might---understandably---have had that vote in mind.

It is true that reconciliation votes have not always been bipartisan love affairs, but does that mean that Brooks's anxiety about a hyper-partisanization of the Senate is wholly misplaced? I realize there's a school of ideological "progressive" thought that loves partisan acrimony and division, but it is not an unworthy position to doubt that such division is good for the country.

See also Rich Lowry's take on this.

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