By Steven Hill, Feb 22, 2010, NY Times.com
Yes, President Obama should push his health care package through the Senate via the reconciliation process. Indeed, it is imperative that he do so for two reasons.
First, because the U.S. badly needs health care reform. And second, to restore the constitutional principle of “majority rule” that has been thwarted in the filibuster-gone-wild Senate.
The recent news that Anthem Blue Cross is planning to jack up individual premiums as much as 40 percent is just the latest example of our failing health care system. Spiraling costs is one of the gravest threats to the federal budget and our national economy, placing American consumers as well as businesses at a competitive disadvantage with their international counterparts.
Our country can no longer afford to be the only industrialized nation that does not have universal health coverage. Too much is at stake to allow health care reform to be undermined by the quirky rules of the Senate.
Beyond the immediate health care crisis, a more fundamental principle is at stake. That is the notion that the majority should rule. Nowhere is it written in the Constitution that a super majority of 60 out of 100 votes is needed to pass legislation in the Senate.
The filibuster is merely a peculiarity of antiquated Senate tradition that once protected slaveholding states. Indeed, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton warned about the creation of any legislative body which “contradicts the fundamental maxim of republican government, which requires that the sense of the majority should prevail” (Hamilton, Federalist Paper number 22).
The problem with super majority thresholds is that they allow a minority to exercise a veto over what the vast majority wants. Currently, the 41 Republican senators represent barely a third of the nation’s populace yet they can strangle any legislation favored by senators representing the other two-thirds. The resulting paralysis has undermined the Senate’s credibility as a deliberative body and resulted in a constitutional crisis.
Very few national legislatures require a super majority to pass legislation, though one comparable situation is in California. There, a two-thirds legislative super-majority is required to pass a budget or alter revenues, and also has resulted in paralysis and minority veto.
So by using reconciliation, President Obama will return the Senate to the original vision of the founders. And he will pass health care legislation that will allow millions of fellow Americans to enjoy a level of health care security that the president and the senators themselves already enjoy.