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ObamaCare and the Abuse of Power

The Wall Street Journal writes that ObamaCare is so unpopular that Democrats have to break the rules to pass it. ]

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Abuse of Power

‘An undemocratic disservice to our people and to the Senate’s institutional role.’

A string of electoral defeats and the great unpopularity of ObamaCare can’t stop Democrats from their self-appointed rendezvous with liberal destiny—ramming a bill through Congress on a narrow partisan vote. What we are about to witness is an extraordinary abuse of traditional Senate rules to pass a bill merely because they think it’s good for the rest of us, and because they fear their chance to build a European welfare state may never come again.

The vehicle is “reconciliation,” a parliamentary process that fast-tracks budget measures and was created in 1974 as a deficit-reduction tool. Limited to 20 hours of debate, reconciliation bills need a mere 50 votes in the Senate, with the Vice President as tie-breaker, thus circumventing the filibuster. Both Democrats and Republicans have frequently used reconciliation on budget bills, so Democrats are now claiming that using it to pass ObamaCare is no big deal.

Yet this shortcut has never been used for anything approaching the enormity of a national health-care entitlement. Democrats are only resorting to it now because their plan is in so much political trouble—within their own party, and even more among the general public—and because they’ve failed to make their case through persuasion.

“They know that this will take courage,” Nancy Pelosi said in an interview over the weekend, speaking of the Members she’ll try to strong-arm. “It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare,” the Speaker continued. “But the American people need it, why are we here? We’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress.”

Leave aside the irony of invoking “the American people” on behalf of a bill that consistently has been 10 to 15 points underwater in every poll since the fall, and is getting more unpopular by the day, particularly among independents. As Maine Republican Olympia Snowe pointed out in a speech last December, Social Security passed when Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House, yet 64% of Senate Republicans and 79% of the House GOP voted for it. More than half of the Senate Republican caucus voted for Medicare in 1965. Historically, major social legislation has always been bipartisan, because it reflects a durable political consensus.

Reconciliation is the last mathematical gasp for ObamaCare because Democrats can’t sell their policy to Senator Snowe, any other Republican, or even dozens of Democrats. This raw exercise of political power is of a piece with the copious corruption and bribery—such as the Cornhusker kickbacks and special tax benefits for union members—that liberals had to use to get even this far.

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