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What Is So Nuclear About Majority Rule?

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During the Bush administration,  “reconciliation” was used to pass the 2001 Tax Cuts, which primarily benefitted wealthy Americans. The final vote was 58 to 33. Then in 2003, Bush used reconciliation again to pass the second Bush Tax cuts, which once again primarily benefitted wealthy Americans. The final vote was 50 to 50, with Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote. The 2005 Deficit Reduction Act was also passed in reconciliation with a 50 to 50 vote and a Cheney intervention. The 2006 Tax Relief Extensions Act was passed in reconciliation. The final vote was 54 to 44. All were major Bush agenda items passed by reconciliation. Reconciliation has been used to pass bills 21 times, 16 times by Republicans.

So why is the minority party now calling this process a parliamentarian trick, an attempt to ram something down the mouth of the Republicans? Why is the  media following their cue and using the same language?

"That would be the Chicago approach to governing: Strong-arm it through,"  said New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "You're talking about the exact opposite of bipartisan. You're talking about running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River."

This comes from a party most noted for using the same procedure, but it is also the same party that has "dominated" the use of the filibuster to derail and stall just about anything they didn't author. In 2008, the Republicans set a record for the use of the filibuster in a two-year term, when they forced the 62nd cloture vote for an appropriations bill. The previous record of 61 cloture votes in a two-year term was set in 2001-2002, the last time the GOP comprised the minority in the Senate.Republicans have refused to allow votes on the Employee Free Choice Act, denied a roll call on the substance of the prescription drug bill and prevented a vote on recommendations made by the 9/11 commission.

"The numbers are astonishing in this Congress," says Jim Riddlesperger,  political science professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth when speaking about the GOP’s use of the filibuster.

In the 110th Congress of 2007-2008, the Republican minority forced a record of 112 cloture votes. In the current sessions, only one year into the new White House Administration, that number already exceeds 40.

Here are the facts: The Republicans are intent on obstructing, stalling the government, waging a war of words is their strategic path back into the majority. The Democrats must govern. That is what is expected of them and their inability to do so, is why voters are turning against them. Reconciliaiton, in this climate, might be the only way of getting things done.

The health care reform issue is a perfect example. Recently, we endured a bipartisan summit where both sides made their intentions clear. The only solution, according to Republicans, was scrapping the entire bill and starting from square one. Square one? Another year debating? Another year of going broke while  insurance providers increase premiums by 30 percent, another year of  political theater while thousands are booted of their insurance altogether— another year of going without?

The reconciliation process limits debate to 20 hours and bypasses the filibuster altogether. It asks our representatives to pass legislation in an up or down vote. In this political climate where the  RNC has based an entire campaign based on stoking fear, resentment and reactionary feelings from its base, reconciliation should not be the exception but the rule.

President Obama has tried from the very beginning to bring “bipartisanship” to Washington. Remember when he was elected, he invited several congressional Republicans over to watch football and nobody showed? He tried to appoint Gregg to his cabinet and was turned down. The White House’s continued courting of Olympia Snowe?

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