The Washington Post's opinion pages keep getting worse, every day. Today, the Post handed over a valuable chunk of opinion real estate to Sen. Orrin Hatch, who the Post allowed to make several misleading claims about reconciliation -- some of which were in conflict with the Post's own reporting.
Broadly, Hatch's op-ed is fundamentally misleading in that it repeatedly conflates passing health care reform via reconciliation with passing tweaks to health care reform via reconciliation. The former is not under discussion; indeed, the Senate has already passed health care reform. As the Post's own Ezra Klein explained yesterday, "Democrats are not proposing to create the health-care reform bill in reconciliation. Rather, they're using the process for a much more limited purpose: passing the 11 pages of modifications that President Obama proposed to reconcile the House and Senate bills with each other."
Still, Post op-ed editors allowed Hatch to suggest that reconciliation is being considered as a means of passing the entire reform package. Hatch writes:
Some of my colleagues, and others, have wrongly argued that using reconciliation to change only parts of this enormously unpopular bill would not be an abuse of the process. But if the only way to pass this $2.5 trillion bill is through reconciliation, then this continues to be an abuse that stifles dissent and badly undermines our constitutional checks and balances.
Of course, reconciliation isn't the only way to pass the bill, because the Senate has already passed the bill. Reconciliation is begin considered as a means of amending the bill. (That $2.5 trillion figure, by the way, is much larger than the CBO's estimate, but the Post didn't make Hatch explain where it came from.)
Worse, the Post allowed Hatch to misleadingly suggest that Sen. Kent Conrad shares his opposition to using reconciliation:
This use of reconciliation to jam through this legislation, against the will of the American people, would be unprecedented in scope. And the havoc wrought would threaten our system of checks and balances, corrode the legislative process, degrade our system of government and damage the prospects of bipartisanship.
Less than a year ago, the longest-serving member of the Senate, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, said, "I was one of the authors of the legislation that created the budget 'reconciliation' process in 1974, and I am certain that putting health-care reform . . . legislation on a freight train through Congress is an outrage that must be resisted." Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, also a Democrat, said last March, "I don't believe reconciliation was ever intended for the purpose of writing this kind of substantive reform legislation." They are both right.
But Conrad was "speaking generally of the idea of moving major legislative priorities under reconciliation," according to the New York Times article in which that quote originally appeared. He wasn't speaking in opposition to using reconciliation to tweak legislation that has already passed, which is the current debate. (Note, again, that the Post allows Hatch to refer to "the use of reconciliation to jam through this legislation," which falsely suggests the entire reform package would be passed via reconciliation.) In fact, Conrad said just yesterday that reconciliation can be used for such fixes:
But Conrad patiently explained that the media interpretation of his comments is wrong. He was merely saying reconciliation would not be used to pass a comprehensive bill, and would only be used to pass the sidecar fix, which he said is workable, depending on what's in it.
"Reporters don't seem to be able to get this straight," Conrad said, hitting the "misreporting" he said is widespread. "Comprehensive health care reform will not work through reconciliation. But if the House passes the Senate bill, and wants certain things improved on, like affordability, the Medicaid provisions, how much of Medicaid expenses are paid for by the Federal government, that is something that could be done through reconciliation."
Surely the Post knows about that; Conrad said it to a Post reporter.
The Post also allowed Hatch to assert "Reconciliation was designed to balance the federal budget. Both parties have used the process, but only when the bills in question stuck close to dealing with the budget. In instances in which other substantive legislation was included, the legislation had significant bipartisan support."
But just yesterday, the Post's Greg Sargent detailed several reconciliation votes cast by Republicans during the Bush presidency, including:
McConnell, Hatch, NRSC chief John Cornyn and 21 other current GOP Senators voted for the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, which accelerated the Bush tax cuts and added new ones. This passed by a simple majority via reconciliation - 50-50 in the Senate with Dick Cheney casting the tiebreaking vote.
That wasn't an attempt to "balance the federal budget," and that wasn't something that passed with "significant bipartisan support." So not only was Hatch's suggestion that reconciliation has only been used to to pass measures "to balance the federal budget" or those with "significant bipartisan support" false, he himself has supported reconciliation in situations that met neither of those conditions. Yet the Post let him mislead their readers.