Barack Obama’s budget director, Peter Orszag, suggested yesterday that the administration would consider using the budget reconciliation to pass its healthcare agenda and energy agenda (particularly their proposed cap-and-trade bill) by inserting that legislation into the final version of the budget. It’s not that those bills are actually a proper part of the budget process—rather, it’s that the budget reconciliation (the final version of the budget agreed upon between the House and Senate after each passes its separate version) can’t be filibustered. Orszag’s suggested tactic would allow the White House to pass major legislation without debate—and without a single Republican vote.
At least, it would in theory. In actual fact, as About.com’s Kathy Gill points out,
If Democratic leadership pursues this ill-advised plan, moderates do have an out. The out is a constraint on reconciliation that is called the “Byrd rule.” Named after Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), the constraint means that if a Senator believes that a provision of the reconciliation bill is “extraneous” it may be subject to a point of order. After the Byrd Rule is invoked, at least 60 Senators must vote to waive the Byrd rule.
There are two things to be said about this. The first is that the Byrd Rule is there to prevent exactly the sort of shenanigans that the Obama administration is contemplating, and that’s a very good thing; misusing the budget process in that way would just be wrong.
The budget process should be used to manage federal expenditures for programs that have been enacted by Congress. It’s bad enough that enabling legislation runs hundreds of pages and that there is no requirement of nexus (relevance). The budget is not the place to shoehorn policy changes that should be the subject of their own enabling legislation.
The second is that Gill’s point shouldn’t be news to Barack Obama. Don Surber comments,
Perhaps if Barack Obama had spent a few days in the Senate instead of campaigning, he would know this.
You would think that a former member of the Senate would have more awareness of and respect for the proper procedures of the Senate than President Obama has so far shown.
(Cross-posted at The Spyglass)