Raising Women’s Voices

Circumventing Republican filibuster of Obama’s health care bill

Posted in DC Reform by raisingwomensvoices on May 1, 2009

senate-floor-image2Last week, Obama and Congressional Democrats reached an agreement to invoke what’s called the budget reconciliation process to protect against Republican filibustering and enable Obama’s health care legislation to pass the Senate with a mere 51-vote majority (rather than the 60-vote “supermajority” necessary to overcome a filibuster).

The reconciliation process would “all but guarantee that a single GOP vote would not be needed” to pass Obama’s health care plan.  Democrats are saying that it will be invoked if Senate Democrats and Republicans cannot reach agreement on the issue by September.

Republicans could force multiple votes on mundane matters, slow walk administration nominations, force Democrats to spend days teeing up bills for debate and require lengthy bills to be read in full. In 2005, Democrats threatened to bring the Senate to a halt using similar tactics when Republicans said they would strip them of the ability to filibuster judicial nominations. That showdown was averted.

Now, Republicans would run some political risk of being portrayed as obstructing health care and other initiatives sought by a popular new president if they were seen as shutting down the Senate out of pique.

President Clinton wanted to use the procedure to pass his health care reform back in 1994, but Senate parliamentarian Robert Byrd blocked that effort.  The use of the tactic is controversial in the passage of such major legislation, but it was made somewhat commonplace during the Bush administration when Senate Republicans employed the budget reconciliation process to overcome minority filibustering on issues such as the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 and drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned against the move to limit GOP power.  “Fast-tracking a major legislative overhaul such as healthcare reform . . . without the benefit of a full and transparent debate does a disservice to the American people,” he said. “And it would make it absolutely clear they intend to carry out their plans on a purely partisan basis.”

Read more on the filibuster/reconciliation processes in health care legislation here, here, and here.