Ever heard of the winter blues? Well, I’ve got them. The end of winter always seems to drag on at these northern latitudes. Everyone, except a winter sports buff, is tired of snow and cold by the end of February. I’m no longer fond of winter sports. The closest I come to participating in a winter sport these days is to sit in front of a warm fire and watch hockey on television. Unless you count the daily walks with my dog Al.
Al doesn’t care about the seasons. Not when it comes to his favorite pastime, going for a walk. The fresh snow that had fallen overnight didn’t bother him at all. It bothered me. A lot. Even after all these years of living in Michigan, I still have a hard time accepting the truism – Spring will come when it comes.
Winter blues or not, it was soon obvious that Al wasn’t going to let me sit and mope until he got his daily walk. He was dancing in front of the door even before I had shrugged into my coat. As soon as I’d pulled on my boots and grabbed his leash, we were on our way.
The first stop on our route is usually the neighbor’s mailbox. Al has to sniff around the post until he’s satisfied no strange dogs have claimed his territory. The pause also gives our neighbor, Beau, a chance to join us if he is in the mood for a walk. Cold and snowy days, like today, are a far cry from the Mississippi climate he’s lived in all his life, yet he continues to surprise me by embracing the winter weather. This day was no exception as I saw him come out his side door and head down the driveway towards me and Al.
I suppose Beau’s obvious enjoyment of a Michigan winter says something about his openness for new experiences. That’s one reason I still have some hope of weaning him away from Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the right-wing echo chamber. There have been small, encouraging signs of progress over the long winter months, but I’m well aware that there is still a long way to go.
“Shore is a purty day,” he said as he joined us.
“Yeah,” I replied. “But, I’ve seen enough snow for one winter. I’m ready for spring.”
“Know wha’cha mean.”
We walked on in silence for a short distance before he said, “I was listenin’ to Rush t’day. Boy, was he ever worked up. Cain’t say as ah blame ‘im.”
“Is that right? What set him off this time?”
“Oh, the usual. Obamacare and the way they’re tryin’ ta cram it down our throats.”
I gave him a quizzical look and said, “Cram?”
“Yah, Rush said they’re gonna cram it through usin’ budget reconciliation. That tain’t right.”
It took a supreme effort, given my already lousy mood, to keep from blurting out something like, “Rush is full of sh*t, as usual.” However, I knew if I said something like that I’d wipe out all of the progress I’d made with Beau so far, so I bit back the obvious reply and took the time to choose my words with care.
“What makes Rush think the Democrats are going to use reconciliation to pass health care reform?”
“He says they’re tryin’ ta cram it down our throats, whether we want it or not.”
“Hmmm, I seem to remember Obama campaigning on the issue of health care reform. I also seem to remember him winning the election by a pretty fair margin. Does Rush have a problem with politicians following through on their campaign promises?”
Beau seemed to think about his reply for a moment and then said, “Guess there’s nuthin’ wrong with tryin’. It’s the way they’re goin’ ’bout it tha’s wrong.”
“Like Rush said, they’re tryin’ ta use parliamentary tricks to get it passed. Just tain’t right. This is supposed to be a democracy.”
Al chose that moment to stop dead in his tracks to sniff at something unseen. I had to do a quick stutter-step and dance move to keep from falling over him. When I looked down to see what had caught his interest there was nothing to see, but clean unbroken snow.
It is one thing to know that dogs have an amazing sense of smell that is millions of times better than ours. It’s quite another to see a dog entranced by a faint scent under the snow that must have been laid down at least twelve hours ago before the snow stopped falling. Beau and I waited patiently until Al was satisfied that he’d inhaled every stray scent molecule and then we moved on.
Once we started moving, I picked up the conversation where we had left off. The first thing I said to Beau was, “I don’t know about calling budget reconciliation a ‘trick’. It’s part of Senate procedure that’s been used more than once in cases like this.”
“Tha’s not the way Rush sees it. He said it’s a trick. The Republicans would never misuse it like this,” Beau added.
I turned to look at Beau and said, “Did Rush really say that? That Republicans wouldn’t use budget reconciliation to pass something?”
Beau didn’t seem quite so sure of himself when he replied, “Maybe Rush didn’t use those exact words, but tha’s what he implied.”
“Well, if that’s what Rush is saying then he’s wrong.” I couldn’t help but get in a little dig at Rush’s expense, so I added, “Might have to give Rush a break on this one. He might have been in rehab when the Bush administration used it to pass five bills. He might not know about it.”
“But… ,” Beau’s voice trailed off and we walked in silence for a few steps and then he said, “Is that right? They really used reconciliation for all those bills?”
“Yes. All five of them between 2001 and 2006.”
Our conversation took a break there while we watched Al sniff his way through the woods along the trail. Neither one of us had picked it up before we reached the shore of the lake. We stood in silence for a while as we looked out over the unbroken expanse of white and then turned and headed for home.
Beau was the first to speak on our trip back, “If what you say is true, then I guess Rush is wrong about this. The way he put it, I thought it was some new trick the Dems cooked up to pass this bill.”
“No, it’s been around for a while now and has been used before to pass major legislation.”
He thought about that for a bit and then said, “Then why is everyone, Rush included, all het up about this?”
I thought for a moment before replying and then said, “I can’t speak for Rush, but I think it might be because the use of this procedure doesn’t allow a minority to block the wishes of the majority. You know, that whole up-or-down vote thing Republicans were always going on about when they had a slim majority in Congress.”
Beau didn’t say anything so I went on, “What I find interesting is the idea that the Democrats are using reconciliation to pass health care reform. That isn’t strictly true.”
“Huh? Wha’da ya mean? You just told me there’s nuthin’ wrong with usin’ this and now yer sayin’ they aren’t even gonna use it? Make up yer mind.”
“Did you know the House and Senate have both passed health care bills?”
“Uh, yeah. I’d heard that,” Beau replied.
“The next step in the process is usually to reconcile the two bills and then each house votes again. That’s not the same as budget reconciliation, which is an entirely separate process.”
We’d come to the road, so I stopped a moment to put Al back on the leash and then continued as we walked on.
“If the House votes for the Senate bill and the President signs it then it becomes law without any further debate,” I said.
“Then why the heck is everyone goin’ on ’bout budget reconciliation?”
“Probably because the real explanation is a little complicated,” I replied. “Normally, as I said, the two houses would work together to turn their different versions of the bill into one final version then both houses would vote on that final bill. Unfortunately, the Republicans won’t allow an up-or-down vote in the Senate on the final bill, so it’s the Senate bill that already passed or nothing.”
Beau thought about that for a moment and then asked the obvious question, “Then why doesn’t the House just pass the Senate bill and get it over with?”
“That’s where it gets complicated,” I replied. “There are parts of the Senate bill that are a no-go for some Democratic House members. They can’t accept the Senate bill as-is.”
“Well, what’s the solution then?”
“That’s where the budget reconciliation process comes in to it. The House won’t vote for the Senate bill unless there are some changes made to it. The Senate can’t pass a revised bill, because the forty-one Republicans in the Senate have made it clear that none of them will allow an up-or-down vote in the Senate no matter what is in the final bill. That leaves only one option.”
“The Senate can pass changes to the Senate version of the bill through budget reconciliation then the House can vote for the Senate version of the bill and send it to the President for his signature.”
Beau spotted what he thought was a flaw in that plan, “How can they pass fixes for something that hasn’t even been passed?”
“Nothing becomes official until the President signs it. As long as he signs the health care bill before he signs the fixes passed through budget reconciliation then everything is on the up-and-up.”
Beau chuckled and then he said, “Man, you’re right. This is really complicated.”
“That’s Washington for you.”
He chucked again and then stopped walking as we came up to his driveway. Al sniffed around the mailbox again and then lifted his leg to mark his territory. I suspect this works the same way claw marks on a tree works for bears – the higher on the post or tree the bigger the animal that left the mark or scent. Smaller dogs, or bears, beware.
Beau nodded his head at me and then started up his driveway. I glanced at the wet spot Al had left on the post and then shook my head at the juxtaposition of thoughts of Rush Limbaugh and dog urine in my mind at the same time then grinned ruefully at the irony of it all and ambled for home with my buddy Al at my side.