Senate parliamentarian nixes reconciliation path

According to Roll Call, the Senate parliamentarian has ruled today that the president “must sign Congress’ original health care reform bill before the Senate can act on a companion reconciliation package.” This kills the Democrats’ plans in one shot. Their idea has been that the House would pass the Senate bill, in conjunction with the “side-cars” such as the Stupak language, and that this changed bill would then be passed by the Senate via reconciliation. But if the president must sign the bill into law before there can even be reconciliation, then the House must pass the original, pristine Senate bill, all by itself. This means that the Stupak group and the other hold-outs would have to vote for a bill which will be signed by the president and become the law of the land without the changes on which they absolutely insist, and they would have to vote for it based on nothing but the hope or promise that after the bill has become law, the Senate will then pass the further changes to the law that the hold-outs require. But why should Obama and the Senate Democratic leaders revisit the issue, once they have their Precious in hand? And even if they tried in good faith to amend the law, the effort might fail. So this seems to scotch any possible Stupakite vote for the health care bill.

If the parliamentarian’s statement stands (though I’ve heard that the vice president can overrule him), then it’s hard to see that Obamacare has any pulse left. [Update, 9:15 p.m.: That was a premature comment by me, based on my forgetting momentarily that the Democrats will keep pursuing every possible and impossible path until they win or the clock runs out. According to an AP story posted at RCP tonight, the Democrats have given up on getting the Stupak group aboard, but still think they can pass the bill by picking up the needed votes from other congressmen, and making such changes in the bill as can be passed by reconciliation, which was not the case with the Stupak abortion language.]

But why, oh, why didn’t the parliamentarian say this back in January? It would have spared the country from having to endure for these last two months the Demoncrats’ fevered twistings.

Ruling Kills an Option for Moving Health Bill
March 11, 2010, 2:30 P.M.
By David M. Drucker
Roll Call Staff

The Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that President Barack Obama must sign Congress’ original health care reform bill before the Senate can act on a companion reconciliation package, senior GOP sources said Thursday.

The Senate Parliamentarian’s Office was responding to questions posed by the Republican leadership. The answers were provided verbally, sources said.

House Democratic leaders have been searching for a way to ensure that any move they make to approve the Senate-passed $871 billion health care reform bill is followed by Senate action on a reconciliation package of adjustments to the original bill. One idea is to have the House and Senate act on reconciliation prior to House action on the Senate’s original health care bill.

Information Republicans say they have received from the Senate Parliamentarian’s Office eliminates that option. House Democratic leaders last week began looking at crafting a legislative rule that would allow the House to approve the Senate health care bill, but not forward it to Obama for his signature until the Senate clears the reconciliation package.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved Thursday to put Senate Republicans on the defensive over health care, sending a letter to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in which he dared the GOP to vote against reform.

Reid also defended the Democrats’ use of reconciliation to get a final health care reform bill to the president’s desk, noting that the bulk of health care reform was approved under regular order via the package that cleared the Senate on Christmas Eve. Reid also emphasized that Republicans have used the procedure several times over the years.

However, Reid also promised in the letter that Republicans would have ample opportunity to amend the reconciliation package.

“Reconciliation is designed to deal with budget-related matters, and some have expressed doubt that it could be used for comprehensive health care reform that includes many policies with no budget implications. But the reconciliation bill now under consideration would not be the vehicle for comprehensive reform—that bill already passed outside of reconciliation with 60 votes,” Reid wrote to McConnell.

“Reconciliation will not exclude Republicans from the legislative process. You will continue to have an opportunity to offer amendments and change the shape of the legislation. In addition, at the end of the process, the bill can pass only if it wins a democratic, up-or-down majority vote. If Republicans want to vote against a bill that reduces health care costs, fills the prescription drug ‘donut hole’ for seniors and reduces the deficit, you will have every right to do so,” he said.

- end of initial entry -

Kathlene M. writes:

I’ve been following all your articles on the stomach-churning drama of the Healthcare-Reform-possessed Democrats with great interest. I still think that the Dems will continue looking for something, anything, however obscure or crazy to achieve their objective which is to have government control of healthcare. So the saga may seem over today, but not for them. They’ll keep trying. As you’ve written so well, it’s not over until the gavel is pried loose from the cold dead bony fingers of Nancy Pelosi.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 11, 2010 04:21 PM | Send

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