Secularism of the Senate notwithstanding, "reconciliation" is at root a religious concept, an article of faith central to Christian theology. This perhaps explains why, at this point in the health care brouhaha, cantankerous Republicans have chosen to perch their high horse at such a precarious altitude.
As one of the Seven Sacraments, reconciliation is about as close to bedrock as one can get in the Roman Catholic tradition and indeed, it is one of the better-known–if not fully understood–foundations of Catholic doctrine. Also known as penance, forgiveness, and confession, reconciliation is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as, "The action of restoring humanity to God’s favour, esp. as through the sacrifice of Christ; the fact or condition of a person’s or humanity’s being reconciled with God." The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, "It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles." For Catholics, the quintessential reconciliation was Christ’s crucifixion, that ultimate penance paid by mankind to deliver itself to the bosom of the Creator. The act of confessing one’s sins to a priest–and the subsequent absolution–is a smaller recapitulation of this seminal event.
In Washington, we can see senatorial reconciliation as a sacrament of returning lawmakers back to the good graces of the electorate. No mundane piece of parliamentary procedure, then, the reconciliation of health-care reform is a necessary step for a wayward legislative body that for too long has been totally out of touch with its higher authority; i.e., those pesky voters. In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, 37 percent of respondents said that Congress was most responsible for the health-care hold-up, compared to the 5 percent who blamed President Obama (56 percent place equal responsibility on both).
Of course, the best part about reconciliation is that it serves to wipe a conscience clean. When the priest says to the sinner, "I absolve you from your sins," he’s cleared from guilt, regret, and ruefulness, and can return to his everyday life and his everyday responsibilities. For a government that’s lost the approval of the governed, getting something done–governing, that is–may prove to be perfect penance. Serendipitously, it just so happens that a procedure called reconciliation is the way to do it.