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Process Arguments And Health Care Reform

The controversy over the "deem-and-pass" strategy will probably end very quickly. (I expect Democrats to conclude it's not worth the hassle.) But it's another telling episode in the health care saga. Conservatives have spent the last day in a fit of outrage at the prospect that House Democrats might enact the Senate health care bill and changes to it in one vote rather than two. ("We have entered a political wonderland, where the rules are whatever Democrats say they are," huffs the Wall Street Journal.

Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein has a sharp riposte:

Any veteran observer of Congress is used to the rampant hypocrisy over the use of parliamentary procedures that shifts totally from one side to the other as a majority moves to minority status, and vice versa. But I can’t recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news. It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of “deem and pass.” That strategy, then decried by the House Democrats who are now using it, and now being called unconstitutional by WSJ editorialists, was defended by House Republicans in court (and upheld). Dreier used it for a $40 billion deficit reduction package so that his fellow GOPers could avoid an embarrassing vote on immigration. I don’t like self-executing rules by either party—I prefer the “regular order”—so I am not going to say this is a great idea by the Democrats. But even so—is there no shame anymore?

As I said, this latest procedural outrage is likely to die down soon. Before that, though, conservatives were apoplectic that Democrats might approve health care despite opposition. Here's a disgusted reaction from Redstate:

ObamaCare is not popular.  The people don’t want it.  The people have rejected it.  Yet President Barack Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are going to ram it down the throats of the American people using a special Congressional procedure that avoids a filibuster in the Senate - The Health Care Nuclear Option.  The Obama Administration and Leaders in Congress have shown contempt for the opinions and views of the American people.  They just don’t get it and they don’t care what people think about this plan.

Here's the Journal (again):

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.
Ah, the glory of "progressive" governance and democratic consent.

Even David Brooks reacted with apoplexy:

The country is now split on Obama, because he is temperate, thoughtful and pragmatic, but his policies are almost all unpopular. If you aggregate the last seven polls on health care reform, 41 percent support it and 51 percent oppose.
Many Democrats, as always, are caught in their insular liberal information loop. They think the polls are bad simply because the economy is bad. They tell each other health care is unpopular because the people aren’t sophisticated enough to understand it. Some believe they can still pass health care even if their candidate, Martha Coakley, loses the Senate race in Massachusetts on Tuesday.
That, of course, would be political suicide. It would be the act of a party so arrogant, elitist and contemptuous of popular wisdom that it would not deserve to govern.

Recently, though, the polls have swung back in favor of health care reform. Last night's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 46 % in favor of Obama's plan and 45% opposed. The public is now split on passing Obama's bill. So what about those intense arguments about public opinion and democratic consent?

The striking thing about this debate is the degree to which Republicans have devoted the bulk of their energies to putting forth disingenuous arguments. The have deep-seated reasons to oppose health care reform, but they spend an enormous amount of time on arguments that they would never were the situation reversed. I don't doubt that there's some political benefit to this -- the GOP base already opposes health care reform on the merits, so the way to keep them whipped into a state of outrage is to produce a stream of new process arguments about how the Democrats are doing violence to the beloved system of the Founding Fathers. Swing voters, meanwhile, do favor both the general proposition of health care reform and most of the provisions of the plan, but have recoiled at the process. So there's a logic behind the constant stream of process complaints from the right. It's just created a stupid debate.