Over at Andrew Breitbart’s site, the day’s featured video is a compilation of remarks by Barack Obama, Harry Reid and other Democratic senators back in 2005, in which they strongly condemn Republicans for considering what was called “the nuclear option.”
At the time, the Democratic minority in the Senate was filibustering to block confirmation of some of President Bush’s judicial nominees. Frustrated, Republicans threatened to retaliate by rewriting Senate rules to permanently strip minority senators of the right to filibuster such nominations.
That was hardly the only change being contemplated. Rewriting Senate rules requires a two-thirds majority, which the Republicans didn’t have. So the Republicans were threatening to strip the minority of its historic right to filibuster by ignoring the equally historic requirement of a two-thirds majority to change Senate rules. If carried out, such a revolution would permanently alter the core nature and tradition of the Senate.
Hence, the term “nuclear option.”
The change was so controversial that in the end, senators cut a deal, with Democrats allowing some of the nominations to go through and the Republicans agreeing to drop the nuclear option.
Here’s that video:
The video is clearly intended to depict the Democrats as hypocrites, since Reid and Obama are now threatening to use the Senate reconciliation process to pass health-insurance reform. Reading through the comments at Breitbart’s site, that’s exactly how his audience is taking it — as vile hypocrisy.
But they’re swallowing sucker bait.
The problem is, the “nuclear option” that Democrats railed against in 2005 is not reconciliation, any more than a hammer is an orange. They aren’t even close to the same thing, and the folks at Breitbart are probably smart enough to know it.
The reconciliation process is outlined in existing Senate rules as a legitimate means to avoid the filibuster. Its use requires no rule changes, permanent or temporary, and no abandonment of Senate tradition. Reconciliation is itself part of that tradition. As Reid pointed out yesterday, reconciliation has been used 21 times since 1981, most often by Republican majorities. It’s a standard parliamentary option.
And as NPR reports, its use has often involved health-care reform.
“In fact, the way in which virtually all of health reform, with very, very limited exceptions, has happened over the past 30 years has been the reconciliation process,” says Sara Rosenbaum, who chairs the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University.
For example, the law that lets people keep their employers’ health insurance after they leave their jobs is called COBRA, not because it has anything to do with snakes, but because it was included as one fairly minor provision in a huge reconciliation bill, she says.
“The correct name is continuation benefits. And the only reason it’s called COBRA is because it was contained in the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985; and that is how we came up with the name COBRA,” she says.
So what we have here are two issues:
One, reconciliation is not the “nuclear option.” If Breitbart wants to dig out video of Democrats complaining in such dire terms about previous GOP use of reconcilation, that would be fine and would certainly be evidence of Dem hypocrisy. But apparently he can’t.
And that gets us to the second, more important point. The Breitbart site is lying. He is playing his audience for fools, and the sad part is that they don’t mind, because in return they get the reassurance that their hatred of the other side is justified. Everybody wins, right?
Well, no. We all have honest differences of opinion. We all bring our own perspectives to the debate. We all think that we’re right and they’re wrong, whoever “we” and “they” may be.
But this isn’t spin, this is willful, gross deception. And such blatant disregard for the facts makes meaningful debate and communication impossible; in fact, in cases like this it is designed to do precisely that.
Surely, those on the right will be able to cite what they see as examples of similar behavior on the left, and of course are free to post them here. I make no claims that either side has a monopoly on the problem. But such deception by any party is truly the “nuclear option,” and if we’re not careful it will undermine both our country and democracy.
The effort to at least try to be honest in our discussion, even if our own bias means we come up short, ought to be the minimum required of responsible citizenship