McCain’s Reconciliation Flip-Flop

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This Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Sen. John McCain announced that he plans to introduce an amendment that would prohibit the Democrats from using reconciliation to make changes to Medicare. Entitlement programs “should not be part of a reconciliation process,” he declared to David Gregory, referring to the filibuster-proof procedure that requires only 51 votes. “It’s too important.”

But just five years ago McCain himself voted to use reconciliation to make spending cuts to an entitlement program—in this case, Medicaid. McCain, along with 30 other current Republican senators, used a simple majority to pass George W. Bush’s 2005 Deficit Reduction Act, which, among other things, “reduced Medicaid spending and allowed parents of disabled children to buy into Medicaid,” as Greg Sargent notes. (Sargent’s list of all the Republicans who have voted for reconciliation over the past 20 years is worth a look.)

McCain’s hypocrisy blows a hole in the Republicans’ contention that if Democrats use reconciliation to pass health care reform, they’ll “end the Senate” as we know it. While the GOP has accused Democrats of “ramming” and “jamming” reform through the Senate, the bill in question already passed the Senate back in December. If that measure manages to clear the House, the Senate will only be passing limited tweaks to its bill via a so-called reconciliation sidecar—not pushing through a massive overhaul of the entire legislation. And although some of those fixes may apply to Medicare and Medicaid, they fall squarely within accepted reconciliation procedure, which is used for legislative tweaks that directly affect the federal budget.

Of course, Republicans themselves have long pushed for much deeper spending cuts to entitlement programs, only to turn around and accuse the Democrats of slashing benefits for vulnerable Americans. All of which makes it clear that McCain’s latest flip-flop is just a political maneuver intended to derail reform, not some principled defense of the democratic process.

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