Chris Matthews first became famous as a top aide to legendary House Speaker Tip O'Neill. So it's not surprising he cares about congressional procedure. But Matthews' deepening interest in whether Democrats should use reconciliation rules to pass health care reform--he's been harping on this issue lately--suggests the debate is breaking out of wonkier precincts into the wider political discourse.
And, thankfully, Matthews seems to get it. At least in the clips I've seen, he's not talking about reconciliation as a perversion of democracy, as most Republicans and even some Democrats are suggesting. He's suggesting that it's a way to let the majority have its way, as it should. (In the reconciliation process, filibusters can't block a simple majority vote as they can in other types of debate.)
Still, Matthews seems to be an exception. In most accounts I've seen, this is a story about Democrats eschewing bipartisanship in favor of more divisive legislative tactics--that is, a story about Democrats rejecting cooperation in order to act on their own.
In a smart post yesterday, Ezra Klein explained that this is all wrong. No Democrat has suggested that using reconciliation is the ideal way to pass health reform. Instead, officials like Peter Orszag and Harry Reid have described reconciliation as a fallback, in case bipartisan compromise proves impossible. And this isn't just posturing. The proposed "reconciliation instructions" for health care would actually allow time for bipartisanship to work: the reconciliation process would only come into play if, by September, Congress had not yet agreed upon a health care bill. As Ezra concludes:
At the end of the day, the Republican argument over reconciliation isn't about how Democrats should handle a process in which Republicans are willing to cooperate, but how they should handle a process in which Republicans cease to be willing to cooperate.