Green Room

“Dragging us to it” may not be that easy

posted at 8:10 am on October 17, 2009 by

Rep. Paul Ryan calls the Democrat plan to pass a healthcare reform bill through reconciliation “a massive abuse of power” as well as “an art form, not a science” in which Republicans “will have a lot of room to fight.” Read Robert Costa for more about the process by which the Democrats may pass a healthcare bill without a majority of public support or 60 votes in the Senate. Statist tool Bill Maher will be cheering from the sidelines as they try to drag us to it.

From Ryan:

“Senator Reid, if he can’t reach 60 votes, will probably use this,” predicts Ryan. “Then both sides will have an argument with the Senate parliamentarian about the Byrd rule, which says that parts of a bill can be eliminated if they do not directly reduce the deficit. It also says that you can’t bring incidental things into the bill. It’s like going to court.”

And Alan Frumin will be the judge. He has held the post of Parliamentarian of the Senate since 2001 (and off and on prior to that) and has been part of the Senate Parliamentarian’s office since 1977.

Reconciliation, in a nutshell, from Wikipedia:

In order to bypass a filibuster, Senate rules allow for a process known as Reconciliation to pass budget-related matters, with a simple majority vote. Issues tangential to the budget may not be reconciled. The Parliamentarian has broad authority to decide which portions of a bill are relevant to the budget and to delete provisions he considers unrelated. The Parliamentarian’s decision may only be overridden by a 60-vote supermajority[1].

Bloomberg covered Mr. Frumin and the reconciliation process in August. Frumin’s predecessor, Robert Dove, commented then that,

because of the position’s power, any health-care bill “has the potential of being very badly chopped up” under reconciliation. “It will be a huge mess.”

He declined to speculate on which provisions might run afoul of the rule, saying “only one person knows the answers to your questions — his name is Alan Frumin.”

Dove said Frumin would probably drop anything the Congressional Budget Office said wouldn’t affect the budget. Even a provision that affects the budget may be deleted if Frumin concludes “the real reason that it’s there is not for its budgetary implications but for its policy implications,” Dove said.

As a hypothetical example, he said that as parliamentarian he would kill a provision barring the government from financing abortions because saving money wasn’t the reason it was put in a bill.

Lawmakers “get really ticked off” about such rulings, Dove said. “I made enemies by the score,” he said, recalling he once dropped 250 provisions from a bill.

Rep. Ryan cites a couple of examples of rulings made by the parliamentarian on reconciliation. He asserts that Republicans will have a fighting chance in this trial-like process:

“Using the tort-reform precedent from our own experience a few years ago, Republicans will be able to argue that a lot of the junk the Democrats want can’t go in the bill,” says Ryan. “That’s where Republican leaders like Senator Jon Kyl will be able to make some major arguments against the use of reconciliation.

Sen. Coburn has also been researching in preparation for a reconciliation battle.

For more background on Mr. Frumin and reconciliation see this August post from Newsweek’s Gaggle blog and this recent profile by Gail Russell Chaddock for the Christian Science Monitor. Some excerpts from the latter:

“He’s a man who plays his cards very close to his vest, because he has to. Everyone is looking over his shoulder,” says Senate historian Donald Ritchie. “He’s very serious about what he does, and he’s scrupulously neutral.”

“Your guess is as good as mine what the parliamentarian will say. He is a god,” says R. Bruce Josten, top lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce.

“These can be very subjective calls. When the parliamentarian is called up to make them occasionally or rarely, the Senate accepts it. But several times a day, and it could really affect the credibility of the parliamentarian and hurt the office,” says Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference. “To thrust him into the healthcare bill so he’s virtually writing the bill is unprecedented and unacceptable,” Senator Alexander adds.

“I was always a little bit concerned exactly who I worked for,” says [former Parliamentarian] Dove in a Monitor interview. “You do things in the name of the president of the Senate, who is the vice president of the United States. You conceive of yourself as working for the Senate – and Alan does. Not the majority party, but the Senate.”
“You can never feed anyone information; you can never suggest questions that ought to be asked. You would destroy yourself quite quickly if you did,” Dove says. “All you can do is answer questions that are asked of you.”

Then he adds, “I’m so glad I’m not doing what Alan is doing right now. But he will do it well.”

See Political Hotsheet on the preparations made by the Dem’s to allow for an abuse of the process to pass their unpopular bill.

h/t: Michelle Malkin

Cross-posted here.

Recently in the Green Room:

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

I’m disgusted. I’m a boomer and the main thing going for informed boomers is that if they put up a united front, they cannot be out-voted. We could vote these turds out if we put ourselves behind it. The problem today is that the turds will only pick up the pace at which they stink everything up. That’s why I say meh to term limits; they’ll just get their siht done sooner.

ericdijon on October 17, 2009 at 9:50 AM

It doesn’t matter what is in the final bill if it incrementally advances the idea that government should manage health care, that health care is a right, that health care should be ‘free’.

Once the precedent is established, creeping incrementalism will finish the process.

Skandia Recluse on October 17, 2009 at 10:03 AM

I’m not concerned with reconciliation. The process can be updated by news ad campaigns. I’m more concerned with Blue Dogs voting for cloture then voting no on the final bill.

That vote will be a lot harder to convey to the American People come the mid-terms.

TendStl on October 17, 2009 at 10:08 AM

Someone really needs to help Bill Maher understand that intelligencewise he’s in no position to throw stones.

Howard Portnoy on October 17, 2009 at 10:50 AM

Drag us to it? Try that with our heels dug in, kicking and screaming all the way. Screwum.

Kissmygrits on October 18, 2009 at 10:30 AM

It only takes one senator to stop this. According to senate rules, a bill has to be read in its entirety every time it appears on the senate floor. This rule is waived by unanamous consent. Just one senator could withdraw consent, and they would have to read the whole bill aloud.

Is there not one senator in the entire chamber who would do this?

Farmer_Joe on October 19, 2009 at 10:46 AM