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Public Statements

Reconciliation

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I seek recognition today to address the subject of reconciliation.

I have previously spoken about gridlock in Congress and the negative impact it is having on our stature internationally. We are unable to confirm judicial and executive nominations which is paralyzing the work of the Senate and putting the government's ability to confront the Nation's challenges at risk. It slows the judicial process and leaves many posts empty, including those in defense and national security.

The most central issue at the moment, however, is health care reform. Health care reform passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the Senate, it passed by a supermajority vote of 60-39. The only issue before us now is aligning the already-passed Senate version with the already-passed House version. Despite its passage by 60-39, Republicans are still trying to stop this bill by threatening to filibuster the amendments needed to bring it into a condition that will pass the House of Representatives.

These tactics, which amount to a minority of Senators halting a bill that has overwhelming support, can be overcome by the often used reconciliation process. The reconciliation process is an optional procedure that operates as an adjunct to the budget resolution process established by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. The reconciliation process has been used by nearly every Congress since its enactment to pass a vast array of legislation.

In their endless efforts to circumvent the will of the majority and thwart the passage of much needed and much supported health care legislation, the Republicans have launched a campaign against the reconciliation process, making it out to be an illegitimate tactic that the Democrats have invented to pass health care legislation. That is simply untrue.

A look back in time, however, shows that the very same Republicans who are now denouncing the use of reconciliation were the very same Republicans who were defending its use not too long ago.

When he was chair of the Budget Committee, Senator Judd Gregg, in defending the use of reconciliation to try to pass an amendment allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2005 said, ``Reconciliation is a rule of the Senate set up under the Budget Act. It has been used before for purposes exactly like this on numerous occasions. The fact is all this rule of the Senate does is allow a majority of the Senate to take a position and pass a piece of legislation, support that position. Is there something wrong with `majority rules'? I don't think so.''

When using reconciliation to pass Medicare spending, Senator Gregg said, ``You can't get 60 votes because the party on the other side of the aisle simply refuses to do anything constructive in this area.'' Senator Chuck Grassley, when defending the use of reconciliation to pass the Bush tax cuts, said that reconciliation was ``the way it will have to be done in order to get it done at all.''

Last year Republican Congressman Paul Ryan said of Democrats using reconciliation, ``It's their right. They did win the election. We don't like it because we don't like what looks like the outcome.''

Republicans are implying that reconciliation is a new idea, and has never been used to pass significant legislation. The fact is, since 1980, Congress has sent 22 reconciliation bills to the President. Of those, 16 enacted into law occurred under Republican majority control.

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This could not be further from the truth. The new Reagan administration and Republican majority in 1981 that first used reconciliation to pass major legislation--Reagan's tax cuts--and used it again in 1982 to cut spending and roll back some tax cuts. A Republican-controlled Senate also used reconciliation to pass the 1996 welfare overhaul, the Children's Health Insurance Program, Medicare Advantage and COBRA.

Republicans have used reconciliation many times to pass partisan bills. For example, the 1995 Balanced Budget Act, the 2001 Bush tax cuts, the 2003 Bush tax cuts, the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act, and the 2006 Tax Relief Extension Act were all passed in reconciliation and with small vote margins. Two of these passed only with the tie-breaking intervention of Vice President Dick Cheney, and Democrats got more votes for the health bill than any of these measures received.

Republicans have also complained that reconciliation is not proper for a health care bill. However, over the past 20 years, reconciliation has been used to pass almost all major pieces of health care legislation, including COBRA; the Children's Health Insurance Program; the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which requires hospitals that take Medicaid and Medicare to treat anyone entering an ER; and welfare reform, which disentangled Medicaid from welfare.

Further, the health care bill has already passed with 60 votes. It is only the amendments that need to pass via reconciliation. The 2009 budget resolution instructed both Houses of Congress to enact health care reform. Again, comprehensive health legislation has already passed both Chambers, garnering a majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate. Since the House and the Senate versions are slightly different, using reconciliation to implement the budget resolution by reconciling the two bills follows established procedure. Reconciliation will be used only to pass a small package of fixes to the original health bills that are necessary to align the House and Senate versions. This is actually less ambitious than the usual reconciliation process, which usually applies to entire bills, not just small fixes.


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