In the past week, media figures have routinely referred to a potential effort to pass a health care reform bill with a majority vote as an effort to “ram,” “jam,” or “cram” a bill through Congress, a characterization pushed by Republican politicians. The reconciliation process, which enables the Senate to pass legislation with 51 votes, has been used repeatedly by Republicans, including to pass major changes to health care laws.
Republican politicians declare reconciliation an effort to “ram” health care reform through Congress
Kyl: "[T]hey're going to ram it through, whether we like it or whether the American people like it." Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) stated on the February 14 edition of CNN's State of the Union: "[I]t certainly would appear from the report -- as I said in The Wall Street Journal yesterday, the Democrats have already decided on this so-called nuclear option or reconciliation process. If that's the case, then, obviously, it's pointless to talk because they've made up their mind and they're going to ram it through whether we like it or whether the American people like it."
Boehner: Pelosi aide said Dems are working on plan “to bypass rules in the Senate and ram legislation through on a one-party vote.” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) stated in a February 19 press release that “the top health care aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently told the press that Democrats are working to develop a 'prenegotiated' agreement and preparing to employ a 'trick' to bypass rules in the Senate and ram legislation through on a one-party vote.”
Alexander: “Ramming through a partisan bill” is like “going to war with out asking Congress's permission.” During the September 6, 2009, edition of Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said of reconciliation: "[T]humbing their nose at the American people by ramming through a partisan bill would be the same thing as going to war without asking Congress' permission. You might technically be able to do it, but you'd pay a terrible price in the next election."
Grassley, Barrasso, Pawlenty have also advanced this characterization in recent days. Roll Call reported on February 23 that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said, “Democratic leaders in Congress are preparing a partisan budget reconciliation plan to ram the legislation through.” Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) stated on the February 23 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, “Unless he actually incorporates some of our ideas and if he's just going to ram through this -- what amounts to what was the Senate Democrat version of the health bill, that's not bipartisanship.” And during the February 24 edition of CNN's Campbell Brown, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) stated of the health care summit, "[F]or Harry Reid yesterday to say, well, I'm going to ram it through no matter what, that makes me wonder if there's an agenda behind this."
Media routinely characterize majority vote on health care as “ramming” it through
Will: “The summit's predictable failure will be a pretext for trying to ram health legislation through the Senate by misusing 'reconciliation.' " In his February 25 Washington Post column, George Will wrote, “The summit's predictable failure will be a pretext for trying to ram health legislation through the Senate by misusing 'reconciliation,' which prevents filibusters." Will similarly stated during the February 21 edition of ABC's This Week that “the president is not having this health care summit to woo Republicans. He's having it so that he can then go to Congress and say we're going to ram this through on reconciliation."
Hannity: “Now they're going to ram it down America's throat.” Sean Hannity stated on the February 24 edition of his Fox News program, “Now here's the question. If they go ahead and use reconciliation -- now, Scott Brown ran as the 41st vote against health care. Now they're going to ram it down America's throat. Politically, I just can't believe Democrats would be that stupid to walk the plank and end their careers, because that's what's going to happen.”
Gingrich: “You can't, in a free society, ram through legislation” that Americans oppose. During the February 24 edition of Fox News' Hannity, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich stated that Democrats are pursuing a “Chicago machine politics approach” and “kind of a Hugo Chavez majoritarian rule in the Senate.” Gingrich added that “in the Public Opinion Strategies poll, among those who feel strongly, by 2 to 1, they want to drop the current comprehensive bill. They think it's a bad idea. Now, you can't, in a free society, ram through legislation when two-thirds of the people who feel strongly are opposed to you doing it.”
Santorum: "[T]hey're going to go and try to ram this thing through." During the February 24 edition of Fox News' On the Record, Fox News contributor Rick Santorum discussed reconciliation and stated, "[T]hey're trying to jam this thing through. I think what the president wants to do is he wants to get Republicans in front of the cameras with him, showing that he's -- he's bigger than everybody else. He's being the unifier. He wants that visual. Once he gets that visual, then they're going to go and try to ram this thing through."
Van Susteren: It makes Obama look bad for Dems to say, “No matter what happens, we're going to ram it through.” During the discussion with Santorum, On the Record host Greta Van Susteren said, "[I]t makes him look bad going into tomorrow to say that no -- basically say, no matter what happens, we're going to ram it through. It almost seems like Senator Harry Reid and the Democrats in the Senate never should have done it to the president."
Wash. Times: “Democrats have agreed to a policy and how to ram it through Congress.” From a February 24 Washington Times editorial on “Obama's deceptive health summit”:
Republicans pretty much had to agree at least to meet to pretend to discuss options for a health care compromise, but that doesn't mean there is any real pretense to work together on either side of the aisle. Mr. Obama announced the summit on national TV, not in private consultations with Republicans, and he instructed them as to where, what time and under what rules the summit would occur. And the entire charade will take place after Democrats have agreed to a policy and how to ram it through Congress.
IBD: Obama “must pledge” that “Democrats won't misuse budget rules to ram through health reform.” A February 23 Investor's Business Daily editorial stated, “Is it a 'summit' Republicans are about to take part in, or a 'setup'? President Obama must pledge to them that Democrats won't misuse budget rules to ram through health reform.”
Baier: “Liberals continue to call for Democrats to ram through reform by reconciliation.” Fox News host Bret Baier stated on the February 23 edition of Special Report, "[T]hey're supposed to get together to try to solve health care, but Democrats and Republicans continue to squabble ahead of Thursday's summit. Liberals continue to call for Democrats to ram through reform by reconciliation. We'll explain what that means and tell you if it can be done."
WSJ: “Democrats say they will ram through” reform “with or without Republican support.” From a February 23 Wall Street Journal editorial titled, “ObamaCare at Ramming Speed”:
A mere three days before President Obama's supposedly bipartisan health-care summit, the White House yesterday released a new blueprint that Democrats say they will ram through Congress with or without Republican support. So after election defeats in Virginia, New Jersey and even Massachusetts, and amid overwhelming public opposition, Democrats have decided to give the voters what they don't want anyway.
Mitchell: What would the reaction be if “the Democrats try to ram it down their throats in a 51-vote majority?” During the February 23 edition of her MSNBC program, Andrea Mitchell asked GOP strategist and Hill contributor John Feehery what the reaction would be “if the Republicans object and say they really do want to start over, that there isn't enough compromise in what the president proposed this week, and, in fact they do -- the Democrats try to ram it down their throats in a 51-vote majority through what they call reconciliation.”
Feehery: Obama has “plan to jam it down your throats whether you like it or not.” Responding to Mitchell on the February 23 edition of Andrea Mitchell Reports, Feehery said, “The president said, I'm going to invite you down and I'm going to listen to your ideas, but as I'm doing that, I'm going to craft a bill behind closed doors and I'm going to have a plan to jam it down your throats whether you like it or not.” He added, “Doing 51 votes and jamming it down the throat of the Senate and the American people is politically very dangerous for the Democrats.”
Varney: Dems “may use a controversial ploy to bypass a Republican filibuster and ram through the newly revised health care bill.” On February 23, host Stuart Varney stated on Fox Business Network, “So much for bipartisanship. President Obama and the Democrats in Congress may use a controversial ploy to bypass a Republican filibuster and ram through the newly revised health care bill.” He added, “The bill includes none of the things Republicans wanted, like tort reform. This could kill the bipartisan health summit scheduled for Thursday before it even starts.”
Capehart: We'll see “the president and the Democrats decide to ram through what he's put out on the Internet.” Jonathan Capehart stated during the February 23 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe: “We'll see what the Republicans come to the table with and then as we watch, you know, history unfold during the summit on Thursday, we'll see if we will come up with -- if they will come up with a bipartisan bill, or if the president and the Democrats decide to ram through what he's put out on the Internet.”
Scarborough: Dems might not even have votes to “ram it though anymore.” Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough stated on February 23, “I just don't think at this point even -- you talk to -- I talked to Mike Allen and some guys in Washington yesterday, and they say they can't ram it through anymore, that they don't even have the votes for reconciliation.”
Thiessen: Democrats seek “to ram through their health-care legislation using extraordinary parliamentary procedures.” Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote on February 22: “The president's real objective is to paint GOP leaders as obstructionists -- so that Democrats have an excuse to ram through their health-care legislation using extraordinary parliamentary procedures. Obstructionism has been Obama's mantra ever since Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown's election.”
Birnbaum: Not certain Dems can get 51 votes “to ram through health reform” under reconciliation. Fox News contributor and Washington Times columnist Jeffrey H. Birnbaum wrote on February 22, “To be sure, it's not certain Mr. Reid will be able to round up even the 51 votes he would need in the Senate to ram through health reform under the parliamentary protections of 'reconciliation' that he envisions. Many moderate Democrats are telling their leaders that they don't want to take any more votes on health care, except maybe on small measures that are wildly popular.”
Lothian: "[T]hey could ram this through with 51 votes." CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian stated on the February 22 edition of CNN's Rick's List: “Reconciliation is simply this procedural maneuver in which you can pass health care with a simple 51-majority vote. As you know, everyone was talking about how we have this supermajority here with the 60 votes, and then the big race in Massachusetts changed that. It was no longer filibuster-proof. And so therefore they could ram this through with 51 votes. The White House obviously saying this is an option, but not something that they're saying openly now that they're willing to support.”
Dowd: "[T]he worst thing he could politically do is ram through a bill that everybody hates." ABC political contributor Matthew Dowd stated on the February 21 edition of This Week that Obama should “start over” on health care reform, adding, “The worst thing politically -- the worst thing he could politically do is ram through a bill that everybody hates."
Perino: “They want to ram it through on reconciliation.” On the February 22 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Dana Perino stated of Obama's proposal to create a board to review proposed insurance rate hikes, “You hear this other piece that they want to ram it through on reconciliation. Well, we -- nobody has even had a chance to debate this type of a board.”
Halperin: “It sounds like” Democrats are “headed towards trying to cram something through -- ram something through.” Mark Halperin stated on the February 22 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe: “It feels like what they're doing today is putting down a marker that says this is what we're trying to do, and if you listen to what Harry Reid is saying, it sounds like they're headed towards trying to cram something through -- ram something through with Democratic votes.”
Kelly: Democrats threatening “to ram this through with 51 votes.” Fox News host Megyn Kelly stated on the February 22 edition of America Live: "[I]t seems like some of the Democrats are holding up the stick, saying, we would like to come together, but if we don't, we are prepared to use this stick. Meaning, we are going to ram this through with 51 votes, and then you will be stuck with no Republican input onto the bill. And many people are saying, where -- how is that a bipartisan negotiation? How does that encourage bipartisanship?"
Cavuto: Gibbs hinting that Dems will use reconciliation “to ram this thing through.” Fox News host Neil Cavuto stated on the February 22 edition of Your World: “Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, hinting that, if all else fails, the so-called nuclear option, where you can have reconciliation, in other words, a simple majority vote, rather than a filibuster-proof majority vote, to ram this thing through -- what do you make of that?”
Congress has been debating health care reform since spring 2009
As USA Today's timeline of health care legislation shows, Congress began working on health care reform in spring of 2009. The House passed its bill in November 2009, and the Senate bill passed in December 2009.
Congress previously used reconciliation to pass major changes to health care law
Reconciliation has repeatedly been used to reform health care. On February 24, NPR noted that many “major changes to health care laws” passed via reconciliation. Additionally, during a February 24 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition, correspondent Julie Rovner quoted George Washington University health policy professor Sara Rosenbaum saying: “In fact, the way in which virtually all of health reform, with very, very limited exceptions, has happened over the past 30 years has been the reconciliation process.”
Congress used reconciliation to pass Medicare Advantage. As part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, enacted through the reconciliation process, Congress -- which was controlled by the Republicans at the time -- created the “Medicare+Choice Program,” currently known as Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part C. The program allows seniors to enroll in HMO-type plans rather than the traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan.
Congress used reconciliation to pass COBRA. As stated on the Department of Labor website, as part of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, Congress gave “workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to choose to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time under certain circumstances.”
Congress used reconciliation to pass Patient Self-Determination Act. As part of the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1990, Congress passed the Patient Self-Determination Act, which requires hospitals, nursing homes, HMOs, and other organizations that participate in Medicare or Medicaid to provide information about advance directives and patients' decision-making rights.
Republicans repeatedly attempted to use reconciliation to pass increase in Medicare eligibility age. The version of the Balanced Budget Act of 1995 introduced by then-Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) using the reconciliation procedure contained a section providing for raising the Medicare eligibility age. As the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported, the provision was stricken from the bill during floor consideration on the basis of a point of order that the provision was “extraneous” to matters appropriate to reconciliation.
The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 -- also introduced through the reconciliation procedure -- also included a provision to raise the eligibility age. Fifty Republicans voted in favor of waiving a point of order against the provision that it was extraneous, allowing the provision to remain in the bill. The final version of the bill signed by Clinton did not contain this provision.
GOP used reconciliation to pass Bush tax cuts, welfare reform
GOP used reconciliation to pass Bush's tax cuts. Republicans used the reconciliation process to pass Bush's 2001 tax cut, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001; Bush's 2003 tax cuts, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003; and Bush's 2005 tax cuts, the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the 2001 tax cuts would “reduce projected total surpluses by approximately $1.35 trillion over the 2001-2011 period”; that the 2003 tax cuts would “reduce projected total surpluses by approximately $1.35 trillion over the 2001-2011 period”; and that the 2005 tax cuts would “reduce federal revenues ... by $69.1 billion over the 2006-2015 period.”
Republicans repeatedly voted to use reconciliation to pass components of welfare reform. Congress employed the reconciliation process to pass welfare reform in 1996 as part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Senate Republicans previously included welfare reform provisions in the Balanced Budget Act of 1995, which Clinton vetoed. As CRS reports, 46 provisions of the bill were deemed extraneous by the Senate's presiding officer. Fifty-three Republicans voted in favor of a motion to waive the point of order, but the motion -- which requires 60 votes -- failed on a 53-46 vote.
Media have misrepresented or ignored history of reconciliation
Fox News falsely conflates reconciliation with “nuclear option.” Throughout the health care reform debate, Fox News has repeatedly falsely described the reconciliation process as the "nuclear option." Fox News also recently seized on a Breitbart-promoted video to falsely accuse Democrats of hypocrisy for considering using the reconciliation process to pass health care reform because they had previously opposed the “nuclear option.” But, in fact, the nuclear option referred to a Republican proposal to change Senate filibuster rules on judicial nominees and was not related to reconciliation.
Media have pushed GOP claims that reconciliation “strange,” “extraordinary,” “arcane,” “lightly used,” “unusual.” Reporting on the Democrats' possible use of the reconciliation budget process to pass health care reform, media outlets have advanced the Republican criticism that reconciliation is “an end-run around the normal legislative process.”
Media have not challenged GOP criticisms of reconciliation process. Media Matters for America has documented a pattern of journalists uncritically quoting Republican senators criticizing the decision to use reconciliation, without noting that those same senators -- including Alexander, Grassley, and Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) -- voted to allow the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass legislation during the Bush administration, including tax cuts.