WASHINGTON -- Today's health policy "summit" comes at a moment when, as happens with metronomic regularity, Washington is reverberating with lamentations about government being "broken." Such talk occurs only when the left's agenda is stalled. Do you remember mournful editorials and somber seminars about "dysfunctional" government when liberals defeated George W. Bush's Social Security reforms?
The summit's predictable failure will be a pretext for trying to ram health legislation through the Senate by misusing "reconciliation," which prevents filibusters. If the Senate parliamentarian rules, as he should, that most of the legislation is ineligible for enactment under reconciliation, the vice president, as Senate president, can overrule the parliamentarian. This has not happened since 1975, but liberals say desperate times require desperate measures.
Today's desperation? Democracy's majoritarian ethic is, liberals say, being violated by the filibuster that prevents their enacting health legislation opposed by an American majority.
Some liberals argue that the Constitution is unconstitutional, for two reasons, the first of which is a non sequitur: The Constitution empowers each chamber to "determine the rules of its proceedings." It requires five supermajorities (for ratifying treaties, endorsing constitutional amendments, overriding vetoes, expelling members and impeachment convictions). Therefore it does notpermit requiring a sixth, to end filibusters.
The second reason filibusters are supposedly unconstitutional is that they exacerbate the Senate's flaw as "inherently unrepresentative." That is, the Founders -- who liberals evidently believe were dolts or knaves -- designed it to represent states rather than, as the House does, population.
Liberals fret: 41 senators from the 21 smallest states, with barely 10 percent of the population, could block a bill. But Matthew Franck of Radford University counters that if cloture were blocked by 41 senators from the 21 largest states, the 41 would represent 77.4 percent of the nation's population. Anyway, senators are never so tidily sorted, so consider today's health impasse: The 59 Democratic senators come from 36 states containing 74.9 percent of the population, while the 41 Republicans come from 27 states -- a majority -- containing 48.7 percent. (Thirteen states have senators from each party.)