In a move that has incited some anger from both sides of the aisle, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said Tuesday the administration is thinking about invoking a congressional rule in order to push some of President Obama’s more controversial budget items through the Senate without facing a 60-vote threshold.
Under the budget reconciliation process, measures pass in the Senate with a simple majority as opposed to the 60 votes often needed because of filibusters and similar parliamentary tactics. The Democratic caucus only has 58 members at the moment, and not all of them are reliable votes for all of Obama’s priorities, so the administration might need to have this kind of trick up it sleeve when legislation on things like health care, climate change and tax hikes for the wealthy, for instance, come to the floor.
Naturally, Republicans aren’t happy about the news the administration is even considering this move and have accused the president of abandoning his repeated pledges about bipartisan cooperation. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, has said that any use of reconciliation would be an example of what he called the “Chicago approach to governing: Strong-arm it through.”
“You’re talking about the exact opposite of bipartisan,” Gregg added. “You’re talking about running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River.” (The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn notes, though, that under the Bush administration Gregg had no problems with a similar maneuver.)
Perhaps more worrisome for the White House is a minor mutiny taking place in its party. A group of centrist Democrats in the Senate has been organizing in opposition to Obama’s proposed reforms on health care and global warming, and eight of them have already joined Republicans in signing a letter opposing the possible use of the reconciliation process. “We need everyone in the room,” said one of the eight, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark. “It needs to be done in a bipartisan way.”
Orszag says the White House is aware of the opposition and hopes to avoid invoking the rule, but argued that nearly every piece of major budget legislation in the last thirty-some years has been pushed through the Senate under the reconciliation process. “Somehow this is being presented as an unusual thing,” Orszag said. “The historical norm as opposed to the exception is for a major piece of budget legislation to move through reconciliation.”