In an e-mail to supporters yesterday morning, Newt Gingrich tried to make the case that reconciliation is a narrow measure, that his party has only ever used it for balancing the budget, and that they’ve never, ever abused it for social policymaking:
Reconciliation has been used for 22 bills, of which, 14 were passed by Republican majorities. Nineteen of those bills were signed into law by the President. Three were vetoed. You can view a chart of these bills here.
Notice the similarity between them? All of these bills were obviously directly related to taxation and spending, and since 1985, have successfully met the Byrd rule tests.
First, it’s unfairly narrow to characterize the Byrd limitation on reconciliation as confining the device to only matters of taxing and spending. More accurately, the rule simply requires that all budget-neutral matters be excised from the bill. That means that the public option could pass through reconciliation; the ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, however, could not. That’s why if we’re going to talk about reconciliation, it’s absurd not to aim high, and why most of the Democratic proposals meet the test.
Let’s construe Gingrich’s argument as also suggesting that reconciliation shouldn’t be about social policy, but should just be about adjusting the budget. The biggest bill to pass through reconciliation in recent memory was the Bush tax cut program — which, arguably, represented one massive appropriation away from the government funds held in the public trust, and to the wealthiest tier of Americans. That’s social policy; while it has a profound (and deleterious) impact on the budget, the impact itself is accomplished by, and non-severable from, the social policymaking aspect. For Republicans, handing out free money is social policy. In the case of healthcare reform, the appropriation to create, say, a public option, is purely a side effect.
Using Gingrich’s own statistics, we can also preemptively address another soon-to-be Republican talking point: that reconciliation is just another way for Obama to express his profound irresponsibility when it comes to finances. Running through the list of reconciliation bills, and using the numbers that Gingrich himself supplies, we see that Bush’s reconciliation bills alone added another $925.15 billion to the federal deficit. Meanwhile, Clinton’s stated reconciliation bills subtracted $821.7 billion from the federal deficit.
All of this raises one important question: why, oh why did Newt Gingrich link to a Brookings Institute study?