Everything David Brooks says about reconciliation is wrong
Jon Chait did a very funny job taking apart David Brooks's column on reconciliation. I want to do a serious job on it. The factual statements Brooks uses in his argument are wrong. Not arguable, or questionable, or suspicious. Wrong. And since everything else flows from those wrong facts, the rest of the column can't be taken seriously.
"Reconciliation has been used with increasing frequency," writes Brooks. "That was bad enough. But at least for the Bush tax cuts or the prescription drug bill, there was significant bipartisan support." The outcome of letting reconciliation go from rare and bipartisan to common and partisan is that we will go from a Senate where "people are usually pretty decent to one another" to a Senate that "bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy."
Chilling stuff, huh?
But none of Brooks's evidence is true. Literally none of it. The budget reconciliation process was used six times between 1980 and 1989. It was used four times between 1990 and 1999. It was used five times between 2000 and 2009. And it has been used zero times since 2010. Peak reconciliation use, in other words, was in the '80s, not the Aughts. The data aren't hard to find. They were published on Brooks's own op-ed page.
Nor has reconciliation been limited to bills with "significant bipartisan support." To use Brooks's example of the tax cuts, the 2003 tax cuts passed the Senate 50-50, with Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote. Two Democrats joined with the Republicans in that effort. Georgia's Zell Miller, who would endorse George W. Bush in 2004 and effectively leave the Democratic Party, and Nebraska's Ben Nelson. So I'd say that's one Democrat. One Democrat alongside 49 Republicans. That's not significant bipartisan support.
Another example: In 1993, Bill Clinton passed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. The final tally was, again, a tie broken by the vice president. In this case, not a single Republican voted for the bill.
As for the prescription drug benefit? The prescription drug benefit didn't go through reconciliation. It was passed through the normal order. Brooks is simply wrong on this.
To recap, Brooks argued that reconciliation is being used more frequently, and that past reconciliation bills, like Bush's tax cuts and prescription drug benefit, were significantly bipartisan. Reconciliation is, in fact, being used less frequently, past reconciliation bills like the tax cuts were not significantly bipartisan by any stretch of the imagination, and the prescription drug benefit did not go through reconciliation. Brooks isn't wrong in the sense that "I disagree with him." He's wrong in the sense that the column requires a correction.