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Friday, December 03, 2010

Reconciled to Win

Big day tomorrow (or today, as you read this), so I'm writing this ahead of time. We're expecting the first major snowfall in the afternoon and I've got something else going that's going to take up most of my morning. This will probably be a little short, with three substantial blockquotes, so let's get right to it.

Talking Points Memo:

Using a wily procedural maneuver to tie Republican hands, House Democrats managed to pass, by a vote of 234-188, legislation that will allow the Bush tax cuts benefiting only the wealthiest Americans to expire.

Democrats were not united on the issue. Twenty voted with Republicans to kill the tax cut bill, as they hold out for extending additional cuts to wealthy Americans -- though 3 Republicans, including Reps. Ron Paul (TX) and Walter Jones (NC) voted for the tax cut extensions. However the outcome will (and was designed to) allow Democrats to draw distinctions between themselves and Republicans during the 2012 election cycle.

President Obama endorsed the plan many months ago, and continues to support it. But divisions within his party, the White House's soft push, and the new political reality after the November election have made it highly unlikely that this legislation will become law. It would need to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, and Democrats lack the 60 votes they'd need to do that.

So there you go. An embarrassment vote. Not extremely constructive for the present, but Democrats will be able to run "Rep. X voted to raise taxes on 98% of Americans, in order to pander to his fatcat friends..." ads in November, 2012. Here's a crazy idea: how about we try to win this one for real?

On to the Senate.

Talking Points Memo:

Senate Democrats are planning to force a vote on the House's just-passed middle-income tax cut bill and a second package to let the Bush tax cuts expire above a new, $1 million tax bracket, according to a Democratic aide.

The move is a sign of the leadership's frustration -- though both packages will likely be filibustered by Republicans, Dems are loath to simply wait for negotiations with Republicans and the White House to end on terms they suspect will be much more favorable to the GOP than to their own party.

Don't get too excited, this whole thing falls on the wholly inadequate shoulders of the unfortunate Harry Reid who, according to the report, "was non-committal about whether this would happen." Still, let's win this one.

US House Rules Committee:

Created in a budget resolution in 1974 as part of the congressional budget process, the reconciliation process is utilized when Congress issues directives to legislate policy changes in mandatory spending (entitlements) or revenue programs (tax laws) to achieve the goals in spending and revenue contemplated by the budget resolution. First used in1980 this process was used at the end of a fiscal year to enact legislation to fine tune revenue and spending levels through legislation that could not be filibustered in the Senate. The policy changes brought about by this part of the budget process have served as constraints on the levels of mandatory spending and federal tax revenues which also has served since 1981 as a vehicle for deficit reduction. The reconciliation process is an optional procedure and not a required action by Congress every fiscal year as is passage of the concurrent budget resolution. However, during the eighteen year period from 1980 to 1998 thirteen reconciliation measures have been enacted into law and numerous others have been considered by Congress. Occasionally, reconciliation legislation has included certain such enforcement mechanisms as extensions of the discretionary spending limits and PAYGO requirements or even reforms to the budget process. Whether for tax reduction, tax increases, deficit reduction, mandatory spending increases or decreases or adjustments in the public debt limit, this process has been used to focus many agents on one goal.

That's right, the dreaded budget reconciliation process. In the Senate, this would mean no filibuster would be possible and the measure would pass on a simple majority vote.

Is this some sort of procedural flim-flammery? Not at all. As you can see from the description above, this is exactly the sort of situation that reconciliation was designed to deal with. And, even better, Republicans passed this whole tax structure using reconciliation, so it's only poetic justice that the cuts for the top 2% should be ended the same way.

Let's win this one.


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NOTE: David Waldman at Daily Kos has the specifics on how budget reconciliation could be used to pass this on an up or down vote. Long story short; while it's not the prime example of the beauty of simplicity, it's far from out of the question.