Fight Republicans' Hypocrisy

By Sen. Bernie Sanders, Boston Globe - March 20, 2010

THE AMERICAN people are angry — for good reason. About 20 percent of our workforce is unemployed or under-employed, health insurance premiums are soaring while more and more people lose coverage, we are looking at record-breaking deficits, global warming threatens the planet, young people can’t afford college, and we are fighting two wars.

In the midst of all this, facing the greatest set of crises since the Great Depression, the Republican Party has become the “Party of No.’’ Senate Republicans have engaged in a record number of filibusters and other obstructionist tactics. More than 280 bills passed by the House have not yet been considered in the Senate. Day after day Republicans slow down legislation and use the Senate’s arcane rules to make sure nothing is accomplished. One senator called for the complete reading of a 700-page amendment. Another put a “hold’’ on all of President Obama’s nominees. Another recently delayed American workers from receiving extended unemployment and health insurance benefits.

Meanwhile, people who voted for Obama and the Democrats are wondering why the majority party is always on the defensive and why, with large majorities in both chambers, they still can’t pass legislation to address needs of the middle class and working families. I do a national radio show every week and I continuously hear such words as “disappointed,’’ “disgusted,’’ and “frustrated.’’ People are hurting; they want action from Congress, now.

The good news is that, in order to get this country moving again, all the Democrats have to do is to use the same Senate procedure that Republicans employed — time and time again — in the past. The “reconciliation process’’ requires a simple majority of 51 votes to pass legislation in the Senate, not 60. I find the hypocrisy extraordinary that when Democrats now talk about using reconciliation, Republicans begin whining and howling about how unfair and undemocratic it is. They have used that very same approach time after time when it suited their purposes.

Remember Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,’’ the bible of the Republican Revolution of the 1990s, which attempted to slash Medicare and Medicaid, cut education, raise taxes on working families, weaken environmental standards, and give huge tax breaks to the rich? Before President Clinton vetoed that bill it passed by reconciliation. In fact, of the 22 times that reconciliation has been used since 1980, Republicans have used it 16 times — often to provide tax breaks to the wealthy and slash health care for the elderly and poor.

Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, among many Republicans, is now a critic of reconciliation. But back in 2005, when the Republicans used it, he sang a different tune: “All this rule of the Senate does is allow a majority of the Senate to take a position and pass a piece of legislation... Is there something wrong with majority rules?’’ Gregg was right then. He’s wrong now.

In 1985, Congress provided health insurance for the unemployed, a backstop insurance policy commonly known as COBRA. Do you know what COBRA stands for? It’s the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. In 1996, Republicans used reconciliation to pass legislation that ended six decades of welfare policy. In 2001, Republicans used reconciliation to pass President Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax cut that mainly benefited the wealthy. In 2003, Republicans increased the deficit by $350 billion by providing generous tax breaks for the wealthy and large businesses. In 2005, Republicans passed a reconciliation bill without a single Democratic vote that provided deep cuts to Medicaid and raised premiums on Medicare beneficiaries.

Republicans believed in reconciliation when George W. Bush was president and wanted to push an agenda that benefited the wealthy and large corporations. Now, however, they vigorously oppose reconciliation because some of us want to reform a disintegrating health care system and make college more affordable for working families.

The American people have had enough of this double standard. The Democrats were elected to govern and to address the problems this country faces. It is time for the Democrats to use the same reconciliation rules Republicans used over and over again. The time to act is now!

Senator Bernie Sanders, independent from Vermont, is a member of the Senate Budget Committee.

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