Health Care Reform On The Brink
Although I am on the record as predicting that Congress will get some sort of health care bill to the president’s desk, I am hoping that my prediction is wildly inaccurate. Arguably the most important factor in whether I end up being right or not is the decision being made by the Senate and House parliamentarians:
The White House and Democratic Congressional leaders said Tuesday that they were bracing for a key procedural ruling that could complicate their effort to approve major health care legislation, by requiring President Obama to sign the bill into law before Congress could revise it through an expedited budget process.
An official determination on the matter could come within days from the House and Senate parliamentarians, and could present yet another hurdle for Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders as they try to lock in support from skittish lawmakers in the House.
The most immediate question seemed to be how parliamentarians would rule on the steps that Democrats must follow. The reconciliation instructions require that committees “report changes in laws” that help meet deficit reduction targets.
Democrats are planning to use budget reconciliation to make the final health care revisions because it circumvents a Republican filibuster in the Senate and can be adopted by a simple majority vote rather than 60-vote supermajority normally required.
Something the parliamentarians need to answer is whether or not the Senate bill, currently sitting in Speaker Pelosi’s office, needs to be either passed by the House and/or signed by the President Obama before the “Reconciliation Bill” can even be considered.
If the answer to the initial question — does the Senate bill have to pass the House? — is “no,” then the House can get to work drafting the “fixes” they want in the Senate bill, and shaping them to fit within the budgetary confines of the reconciliation process. Since any fix that doesn’t have to do with the budget will be cut from the reconciliation bill, how that bill is drafted will be vitally important to keeping the House “yes” voters together. If, for example, provisions relating to Rep. Stupak’s desire to prevent federal funding of abortion are deemed to be non-budget related, then he and his pro-life group of congressmen will not want to vote for the Senate bill. However, because reconciliation apparently requires that the bill being “fixed” be submitted to the CBO for scoring first, then, in the very least the Senate bill must be passed by the House.
Should the parliamentarians decide that the House must pass the Senate bill, but that the president does not have to sign prior to the reconciliation bill being considered, then the House can basically hold the Senate bill hostage while working on the fixes. It’s not entirely clear how long Pelosi could do this (how soon after voting does she have to enroll the bill? What about the ten-day limits re passage/”pocket veto”?). However, it would enable to the House to get a reconciliation bill through the Senate before sending the Senate bill to Obama, thus ensuring that whatever happens during reconciliation doesn’t undermine any Representative’s “yes” vote.
If, instead, the House must both pass the Senate Bill and get it signed by the President before the reconciliation bill can be considered, then health care legislation is likely dead. In this scenario, the House would have to trust the Senate to agree to its fixes, that such fixes get through the reconciliation process, and that Obama signs them into law. Meanwhile, a perfectly functional health care law will be on the books which achieves what the Senate Democrats wanted, and what Obama has staked his entire presidency upon. That would require a great deal of faith.
As I understand it, there are numerous variables in play that could decide which of these scenarios is the winner, so nothing is terribly certain at this point. What is known, is that a favorable parliamentarians’ decision is crucial to ObamaCare becoming law.[ad#Banner]