Does Obama have to sign Senate bill into law before reconciliation can happen?
posted at 3:10 pm on March 10, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
Call this the Blind Faith conundrum in the Democratic strategy to pass ObamaCare. In order to get the House to sign off on the Senate version of the bill, they have to trust that the Senate will actually pass a parallel series of fixes through reconciliation. Some House Democrats don’t trust the Senate to act or Obama to push the issue once he has a bill he can sign into law, which has led the House to plan a hostage strategy — passing the bill but holding it until the Senate completes the reconciliation process. However, parliamentarians in both chambers of Congress have to decide whether the Senate can actually amend a law that hasn’t been signed yet through that budget process, and the signs don’t look good (via the Boss Emeritus):
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. …
Democratic leaders had been contemplating an intricate legislative two-step, by which the House would approve the original Senate health care measure and both chambers would adopt a package of changes in a budget reconciliation bill. Both measures would then be sent to Mr. Obama for his signature.
Some officials said House leaders were holding out hope for a favorable ruling by the parliamentarians that would allow them to proceed as planned — or to circumvent the problem.
But Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, said the reconciliation instructions in last year’s budget resolution seemed to require that Mr. Obama sign the Senate bill into law before it could be changed.
“It’s very hard to see how you draft, and hard to see how you score, a reconciliation bill to another bill that has not yet been passed and become law,” Mr. Conrad said. “I just advise you go read the reconciliation instructions and see if you think it has been met if it doesn’t become law.”
The entire strategy of reconciliation could collapse on this point — if House Democrats don’t trust Obama to pursue the parallel bill after House passage of the Senate bill. The progressive caucus is only going along with this strategy on the promise to change the Cadillac tax provisions of the Senate bill to exempt unions, who strongly objected to the new tax. Pelosi is also trying to woo moderates by promising another parallel bill on abortion, although it doesn’t appear that she’s making much headway with that promise.
That’s not the only group that will have a problem with this. The White House can’t afford two fights over ObamaCare this year. An adverse ruling by parliamentarians would mean that Obama has to cross two finish lines this year. How much motivation would Obama have in wading back into the ObamaCare fight a second time to rescue the unions from the Cadillac tax, and possibly to ban federal funding for abortion after the Senate removed such a ban in December? My guess is that figure would approach zero, even with the unions leaning on him.
If nothing else, this shows just how unprecedented this effort by Democrats is. If the parliamentarians issue opinions that block it, what next?