GOP wins parliamentary ruling in Senate reconciliation fight

Is this significant, or just a momentary hiccup on the road to passage for the reconciliation package?  The Senate adjourned earlier than expected this morning after Republicans successfully identified parliamentary overreach in the House sidebar bill that prevented the use of the reconciliation process.  The errors mean that the Senate must change the bill, which then requires another House vote (via CentristNet):

With the Senate working through an all-night session on a package of changes to the Democrats’ sweeping health care legislation, Republicans early Thursday morning identified parliamentary problems with at least two provisions that will require the measure to be sent back to the House for yet another vote, once the Senate adopts it.

Senate Democrats had been hoping to defeat all of the amendments proposed by Republicans and to prevail on parliamentary challenges so that they could approve the measure and send it to President Obama for his signature. But the bill must comply with complex budget reconciliation rules, and Republicans identified some flaws. …

Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, said that one problem with the bill was the formula for determining the maximum Pell grant awards. The second issue was a technical matter that Mr. Conrad described as mostly insignificant.

Mr. Conrad said a third issue was under review by the Senate parliamentarian.

The risk for Democrats in a parliamentary challenge is that Republicans could knock out key provisions of the legislation, or win a decision that upends the mechanisms Democrats rely on to pay for the measure.

“We see no impact on the score and very insignificant impact on any policy,” Mr. Conrad said, referring to a cost estimate of the legislation. “This is not going to be a problem.”

If that’s all that gets struck from the bill, the only effect will be to lengthen the debate on health care.  Obviously, that’s exactly what the Republicans want.  With 62% of voters wanting the GOP to keep fighting against ObamaCare, their leadership has no reason to let up.

The big surprise here is that House leadership allowed themselves to screw up on minor points.  The process of reconciliation isn’t that arcane, and they certainly had the time to double-check their work.  They’ve been working on this strategy since Scott Brown won his election in mid-January.  To have the bill boomerang back because of Pell grants in a health-care bill is an embarrassment.

However, it doesn’t change much in practical terms.  The original bill has already passed into law, and the reconciliation bill mainly rearranged deck chairs regarding taxes and fee structures.  Even if the “third issue” turns out to be significant to the health-care system itself, the Senate will just strike it, and the House will agree to it just to get the debate out of the way.  The GOP warning that the Senate wouldn’t act on reconciliation has already been shown to be empty, and the amendment blizzard won’t make any difference on the House, which has much more motivation to pass the new version as soon as they get it.   The GOP won a delay in the inevitable of about a week at most.

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