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parliamentarian

Reconciliation — It’s Alive? (UPDATED – Dead Again?)

Seems my skepticism yesterday was warranted. According to Politico sources, the Senate parliamentarian ruling announced by the GOP yesterday may have been “misinterpreted”:

Senate Republicans caused a major stir Thursday when they told reporters that the parliamentarian had informed them that the Senate bill needed to be signed into law before lawmakers took up a sidecar bill to fix it.

[…]

But according to reporting by POLITICO’s David Rogers, the accounts aren’t accurate and misconstrue what the Senate parliamentarians have said. That is that reconciliation must amend law but this could be done without the Senate bill being enacted first. “It is wholly possible to create law and qualify law before the law is on the books,” said one person familiar with situation.

For example, if the big bill itself amends some Social Security statute, reconciliation could be written to do the same –with changes sought by the House. Then if reconciliation is passed and signed by President Barack Obama after he signs the larger bill, the changes made in reconciliation would prevail.
This jives with what Pulse sources were saying soon after the first wave of stories hit – in essence, don’t take the reported parliamentarian’s declaration to the bank.

If this report is correct (and there are some issues with it explained below), then we are essentially in the “Yes, No” scenario:

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.

I always thought that this was the most likely scenario, but not being an expert in these matters I couldn’t, and still can’t, say for sure.

Yet, something from the Politico piece strikes me as a bit off, constitutionally speaking. Specifically, this quote (bolded below) doesn’t make any sense:

That is that reconciliation must amend law but this could be done without the Senate bill being enacted first. “It is wholly possible to create law and qualify law before the law is on the books,” said one person familiar with situation.

I am almost certain that this is not correct. The Constitution is pretty clear on this matter:

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; …

Art. I, Sect. 7 (emphasis added)

Perhaps the anonymous source for Politico was just being careless in choice of words, and what he/she really meant was that a bill does not necessarily have to become law before it is subjected to the reconciliation process. That may be true, and that was part of what the parliamentarians were asked to rule upon. But there simply is no question that a bill, before it can become a “Law,” must be signed by the President.

In any event, provided that the Politico reporting is correct (and I think it may be), then there is still the possibility of reconciliation being used to pass ObamaCare. However, there are still a number of problems.

Bruce broke down the numbers for you this morning, which gives everyone a good sense of what the reconciliation bill, as passed by the Senate, must look like in order to get the Senate bill passed in the House. Again, whether or not the “fixes” required by House members to get their vote will actually survive the Byrd Rule part of the reconciliation process is a huge question. In addition, Republicans will have other means of attacking the bill, such as challenging its long-term budget effect which could scuttle the entire thing. So, not only do the wavering House members need to be assured that the Senate will vote for their fixes in the reconciliation bill, they also have to know that those fixes will survive the process, and that the reconciliation bill as a whole will be capable of being passed under the budgetary constraints peculiar to such legislation. That’s a whole lot of “if’s” that need to be answered before the Senate bill comes to the floor for a vote.

The only thing that is immediately clear in all of this is that Democrats have absolutely zero respect for the Constitution, democratic principles, or this republic. They sure as hell don’t give a damn about Americans. No matter what the parliamentarians rule, I still expect Pelosi and Reid to jam something down our gullets and indignantly demand that we thank them for it.

UPDATE: It seems as though the House leadership agrees with the GOP interpretation of the Senate parliamentarian:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) today acknowledged that the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling precludes the House from passing reconciliation fixes to health-care without first passing the Senate bill. Pelosi told reporters she will do just that:

“The bills that have passed, ours with 220 in the House, theirs with 60 in the Senate, we’ll be acting upon the Senate bill with changes that were in the House bill reflected in the reconciliation. So in order to have the Senate bill be the basis and build upon it with the reconciliation, you have to pass the Senate bill, or else you’re talking about starting from scratch. So we will pass the Senate bill. Once we pass it, the President signs it or doesn’t, it’s – people would rather he waited until the Senate acted, but the Senate Parliamentarian, as you have said, said in order for them to do a reconciliation based on the Senate bill, it must be signed by the President.”

Steny Hoyer offered a similar conclusion:

Separately, on the House floor today, Eric Cantor pressed Steny Hoyer on the issue, asking Hoyer whether it’s his position that the Senate bill “must be signed into law before the Senate can even take up the reconciliation package.”

“I think the gentleman correctly states the Senate parliamentarian’s position,” Hoyer replied.

For those keeping score, we went from “Yes, Yes” to “Yes, No” back to “Yes, Yes” and all the while Pelosi is insisting that ObamaCare will be passed. Soon. Very, very soon. Which probably means that the Slaughter Rule will brought into the game … and I just can’t even fathom how that sort of extra-constitutional procedure will play out. This is getting more confusing than wearing a mirror-suit in a house full of mirrors.

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Reconciliation Dead For Good?

Yesterday it was reported that the House and Senate parliamentarians were asked to rule on what exactly the process needed to be for a reconciliation bill to get passed regarding ObamaCare. As I stated, also yesterday, if the answers to the questions, does the House have to pass the Senate bill and does Pres. Obama have to sign it before the reconciliation bill can be considered, are “Yes, Yes” then ObamaCare is officially 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.

I don’t think the progressive caucus, the Stupak group, or many other Representatives have anywhere near that much faith in the Senate and/or Obama. And if this reporting by Roll Call is accurate, they’re going to need a whole mess of it:

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.

Yes, Yes We Can’t!

[HT: Neo]

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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.

No, No

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.

Yes, No

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.

Yes, Yes

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.

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