The eyes of the nation continue to be on Wisconsin, as the state Senate used a parliamentary trick–splitting a “budget repair” bill of all fiscal elements, so that the measure–including the stripping of collective bargaining rights–could avoid the need for the quorum. The necessity of that elusive quorum, only needed for fiscal bills, had been blocked because of the walkout of the 14 Democratic Senators, who are behind state lines in Illinois to prevent state police from forcibly bringing them to the Capitol.
Why raise this on health care blog? There are several connections, but here’s two: First, there are other troubling elements of Wisconsin Governor Walker’s budget proposal, most notably a provision that would give him unchecked power to dramatically cut and remake the BadgerCare program–their version of Medicaid and SCHIP–without even legislative oversight.
Beyond the substance of Wisconsin legislation, there’s also been a facile comparison by some about the procedural issues, saying that the Wisconsin measure was “jammed through” like the federal health care bill.
Let’s forget that that the legislative minority (the Wisconsin Senate Democrats) had a much higher burden to invoke the supermajority rule–they had to leave the state, at personal and political risk–and in a way that can’t last forever. It’s an extreme action taken to counter an extreme bill. In contrast, the filibuster in the Senate has become commonplace, where Republicans don’t even have to go on the floor (Mr. Smith Goes To Washington style), and they invoke it so often it has become the norm, not the exception. A supermajority requirement isn’t a great idea, but if it exists, the threshold to invoke it should be high enough that it is rare–not for every piece of legislation or nomination (as in the Senate) or every budget vote every year (as in the California legislature).
The real difference is that the issue of stripping collective bargaining rights was never discussed in the Wisconsin gubernatorial campaign, and then Governor Walker is attempting to push this new idea through in the first weeks of the legislative session.
In contrast, health care reform was a major platform of President Obama’s campaign–the issue of which he spent over 80% of the television advertising dollars in the last month of the campaign. The measure took over a year to pass (it went into March of 2010). Much of that time was spent negotiating with the minority party (remember the Gang of Six in the Senate?), and despite the fact that Republican legislators walked away from those talks, the result of those negotiations ended up being the base legislation for the final product.
There’s no definition of “jammed through” that includes a year-long process and deliberation, including such significant bipartisan outreach, and inclusion of the opposing party’s ideas. And there’s little comparison with the travesty in Wisconsin.
If there’s a comparison, it’s the passage of the health law repeal bill, which was rushed through in the first weeks of the House of Representatives without a single hearing.