David Brooks Should Apologize for Terrible Article: “The Spirit of Sympathy”

Brooks should apologize for this for three reasons:

  1. An almost completely incorrect description of Bush era bills using reconciliation,
  2. Health care has already passed the Senate,
  3. Bipartisanship isn’t the measure of a democracy.

An Almost Completely Incorrect Description of Bush Era Bills Using Budget Reconciliation

David Brooks describes the possible use of reconciliation for health care reform as against humanity, against our capacity to be empathetic. What bullshit. Shame facts get in the way. He describes the recent history of reconciliation as such:

Reconciliation has been used with increasing frequency. That was bad enough. But at least for the Bush tax cuts or the prescription drug bill, there was significant bipartisan support. Now we have pure reconciliation mixed with pure partisanship.

First off, budget reconciliation wasn’t used in the prescription drug bill, which was awful for US debt with an unfunded mandate, but by Brooks’ estimation an awesome bill because it passed with 2, read 2, Democratic votes.  Only one budget reconciliation bill under Bush passed by an strong sense of bipartisanship: the College Cost and Reduction Act. I’m getting ahead of myself on why this article is terrible.

As Ezra Klein points out rather, err… pointedly, the NYT, his employer, posted a history of reconciliation use showing budget reconciliation was used most in the 80s and second-most under Bush Jr, with the Clinton era pulling up the rear. (Also where I got the other reconciled bill information).

OK, so what Brooks meant to say was that Republicans use reconciliation more frequently than Democratic administrations. It’s just that there have been more Republican years of presidential control than Democratic in the past 30 years.

Health Care Has Already Passed the Senate

Brooks:

The Senate is now in the process of using reconciliation—rule by simple majority—to try to pass health care.

… Correction as this is misleading: The Senate was in the process of passing health care, by filibuster-proof super majority, until it passed three months ago. The Senate is now reconciling a bill that already passed in the House too. These things are different. Bills have already passed in both Houses, now they have to be made the same through budget reconciliation. And all bills are reconciled if versions passed in the House and Senate differ, which is often. Just to clarify, budget reconciliation, the process of reconciliation used for bills related to revenue and budgets passed in both houses, has never needed a supermajority, only +50. So bipartisanship, while desirable, has never been required, not needed, and not always used in budget reconciliation. A large component of the bill deals with entitlements, part of the federal budget, so it sticks. Jury’s still out on if this includes all parts of the health care bill. It’s up to the Senate Parliamentarian to decide.

Bipartisanship Isn’t the Measure of a Democracy

Does it matter as much if a bill is bipartisan or that it receives broad support? This is a big difference. While a couple of votes changed sides for Bush’s reconciliation bills, they all passed by smaller margins than the current health care one, excluding the already-mentioned College Cost and Reduction Act.

More people voted for more Democrats in 2008. How is it this doesn’t count for Brooks as much as trying to include a do-nothing  minority? The health care bill meets all the rules of the Senate and the Constitution – which only requires a majority in both chambers. See Article I of the Constitution.

The health care bill in the Senate received 60 votes back on Christmas Eve. Every bill reconciled under the Bush years received fewer votes, excluding one. In fact, only 5 reconciliation bills since 1981 have received more votes.

In terms of partisanship, how many votes make it bipartisan? The most contentious, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act which Brooks cites as less partisan and therefore better,  saw 3 Senators from each party switch sides. The vote was split 50/50 and Cheney cast the deciding vote. It is the definition of ramming a bill through. You can see the results here. But for Brooks, bipartisanship, check. Individualism redeemed. America saved. Huzzah!

I agree with Mr. Klein, the ombudsman should respond to the horrid quality of this editorial.

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