Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Will the Real Robert Byrd Please Stand Up?

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) is the Liberal Lion of the US Senate. The longest serving member of that institution, he has been a champion of big government and spending programs for years. He is also a philosophical ally of President Obama, an ally who has been at odds with that President.

In addition to his love for big government, Byrd also has a history of demonstrating a great passion about the protocol of the US Senate. Few members of Congress understand the unique role that body plays in the legislative process and he is infuriated by an Administration that is so passionate about its policy agendas that it is disregarding legislative integrity.

About a year ago, in a statement, Byrd made it clear that he agrees with the President when it comes to policy, stating, "I like this budget. I support many of the policies that the President's budget embraces - including middle-class tax relief, and badly needed investments in our nation's infrastructure." In spite of his agreement with the President when it comes to policy, he has great concern when it come to tactics noting that he "cannot, and...will not, vote to authorize the use of the reconciliation process to expedite passage of health care reform legislation or any other legislative proposal that ought to be debated at length by this body."

His statement as to why members of the Senate should be opposed to this legislation is both eloquent and forceful. He notes that "Using reconciliation to ram through complicated, far-reaching legislation is an abuse of the budget process. The writers of the Budget Act, and I am one, never intended for its reconciliation's expedited procedures to be used this way. These procedures were narrowly tailored for deficit reduction. They were never intended to be used to pass tax cuts, or to create new Federal regimes. Additionally, reconciliation measures must comply with Section 313 of the Budget Act, known as the Byrd Rule, which means that whatever health legislation is reported from the Finance Committee or legislation from any other Committee that is shoe-horned into reconciliation will sunset after five years... This is a very messy way to achieve a goal like health care reform, and one that will make crafting the legislation more difficult" (emphasis added).

Many liberal members of the Senate or talking revenge. They believe the legislative process had been used to force legislation down "their throats" in the past. They are not getting much sympathy from Byrd, who said "Whatever abuses of the budget reconciliation process which have occurred in the past, or however many times the process has been twisted to achieve partisan ends does not justify the egregious violation done to the Senate's Constitutional purpose. The Senate has a unique institutional role."

Advocates of mob rule will also find little sympathy from the West Virginia Democrat. He notes that the US Senate "Is the one place in all of government where the rights of the numerical minority are protected." This is not by accident, but by design, stating that, "As long as the Senate preserves the right to debate and the right to amend we hold true to our role as the Framers envisioned. We were to be the cooling off place where proposals could be examined carefully and debated extensively, so that flaws might be discovered and changes might be made."

He has an ominous warning for myopic colleagues who would disregard the rules and ram this legislation through. "Remember, Democrats will not always control this chamber, the House of Representatives or the White House. The worm will turn. Some day the other party will again be in the majority, and we will want minority rights to be shielded from the bear trap of the reconciliation process."

Unfortunately, Byrd is back tracking on his convictions and is now coming out in support of reconciliation to finish the health care bill. This goes against the grain of Byrd's career, but is typical of the politics of the day. It does make one ask, will the real Robert Byrd please stand up?

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is also host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650). Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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