How quickly Democrats forget. A dozen years ago, President Barack Obama faced strong and justified criticism for backtracking on his promise, made numerous times during the 2008 presidential campaign, to televise health-care negotiations on C-SPAN:
By this year’s standards, however, the process that led to Obamacare—the law that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said we had to pass in order to find out what’s in it—seems like a veritable exercise in transparency and open government. It’s gotten so bad that press reports over the weekend suggest Democrats may look to create a carbon tax—which could impose massive new burdens on working-class Americans—without so much as a single hearing in Congress on the proposal.
“I’ve had a carbon pricing bill in my desk for the last three years just waiting for the time,” Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told The New York Times. Funny how he didn’t mention that fact before the election last November or show the American people the details of what he proposes.
Sure, committees in the House of Representatives marked up their portions of the reconciliation bill last month. The House Budget Committee amalgamated those committee prints into a colossal mega-bill, H.R. 5376, which they introduced September 27.
But people in Washington recognize that 2,468-page monstrosity for what it is: An opening offer never intended to constitute the final version of the legislation. Democrats needed to mark up something—anything—to get the process going, and began with the provisions in H.R. 5376. They did so knowing full well that major portions of the bill would get re-written. That’s because of several reasons:
- To make technical changes as the process moves along, because executive agencies often cannot provide immediate logistical feedback on such a massive bill going through such a rushed process;
- To comply with the “Byrd rule” and other procedural elements of budget reconciliation legislation in the Senate; and
- To appease the factions and demands of lawmakers within the Democratic caucus, a large number of whom have insisted on various changes (many of them self-contradictory) for them to vote for the bill.
That last factor has become the most important, with lawmakers insisting that the bill cost no more than $X trillion, or at least $Y trillion, or definitely exclude provision A or include provision B.
But in all cases, these negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, with Democrats hoping to hold only a perfunctory public vote when and if they corral the majorities needed to pass the bill. Lawmakers are debating trillions of dollars in spending, and legislation that will affect many facets of just about every American’s life, without even bothering to hold any public hearing or discussion about what these changes will do for the average voter.
More Than $3.5 Trillion?
As to how much that legislation will cost, not even the Congressional Budget Office knows. In a letter dated October 6 responding to a request by congressional Republicans, CBO explained that the budget office still has not completed cost estimates for H.R. 5376, and may not any time soon:
CBO has not completed…an estimate of the entire legislative package, and it is unclear when we will do so. The legislation being considered by the House is complex, and provisions in some committees’ recommendations interact with those of other committees. Moreover, the agency has had to devote substantial resources to providing technical assistance as committees continue to modify their proposals.
The letter went on to state that CBO “is prioritizing technical assistance to committees for reconciliation legislation that they are developing, which has delayed cost estimates for legislation that those same committees have approved.”
In other words, CBO is so busy helping Democrats re-write their bill that they don’t have time to estimate the costs of the original version of the legislation that House committees considered. If you think that a cockamamie strategy for considering bills spending trillions of dollars, you’re right. Yet these same Democrats claim the government they’re using for such a slapdash (and non-transparent) process can seemingly solve Americans’ every problem.
Trouble in Paradise?
On the bright side, however, the wheels could be finally falling off of this reconciliation train wreck. In recent weeks Democrats have suffered numerous blows to their big-government dreams:
- The Senate parliamentarian advised that Democrats could not authorize millions of green cards in the reconciliation bill, and subsequently nixed their “Plan B” alternative as well. The development should not surprise anyone—this author predicted such an outcome months ago—but it still outraged the left.
- Last week, Pelosi told an audience in her San Francisco constituency that “I’m not even sure we’ll get” drug price controls included in the final bill. That admission has far-reaching implications, as Democrats wanted to use savings from the drug price controls—that is, raid Medicare—to fund an Obamacare expansion and other changes.
- Reports also suggest that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has expressed strong opposition to climate change mandates included in the bill, prompting new talk of a carbon tax as an alternative, albeit a politically explosive one.
Other press speculation implied that the defeat of Democrat Terry McAuliffe by Republican Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia governor’s race could prompt moderate Democrats to abandon President Biden’s “transformative” agenda altogether.
We should only be so lucky. The American people deserve much better legislation than this multi-trillion-dollar spending spree. They also deserve a better, open, and thoughtful process—one that treats voters and constituents with the transparency we have every right to demand as citizens.