Senate parliamentarian throws a wrench in Democrat reconciliation plans

Most excellent news, via The Hill:

The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that President Barack Obama must sign the healthcare reform bill before Democrats can use special budget rules to pass changes demanded by the House.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, told colleagues about the ruling Thursday afternoon, according to a Democratic source familiar with the meeting.

The ruling is a blow to Democrats who planned for Obama to sign in quick succession the Senate version of healthcare reform legislation and a companion measure with changes requested by House lawmakers.

House lawmakers, who are distrustful of their Senate counterparts, have demanded that both measures pass Congress at the same time. Some House members worry that if they passed the Senate healthcare bill, senators would not approve the sidecar measure with the changes at a later date.

Democrats acknowledged the parliamentarian’s ruling was a setback but argued that it does not deliver a fatal blow.

“If this is true, it will mean that we have to find a device to receive absolute assurances from our Senate colleagues that they’ll be able to complete the reconciliation process in the Senate,” Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen said.

“We will have to confer with our Senate colleagues until we find something satisfactory to our Caucus,” he said.

Van Hollen hedged when asked what such a device would have to look like.

Said a Democratic strategist: “It’s just going to require a little more trust from the House that the Senate is going to do its job.”

Hehe!

While the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling is welcomed by concerned Americans all across the country, don’t get your party hats out just yet because it ain’t ovah til it’s ovah:

[Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.)] says that, come Monday, Democrats “will bring a shell piece of reconciliation legislation” to the budget committee. “The reconciliation process has to begin there,” he says. “Here’s what they’ll do: They will take the House health-care bill and mark it up so that it can become a reconciliation vehicle. Republicans will make runs at this via motions to instruct, but since we’re outnumbered, their package will get through the committee. Then they’ll send that shell of a bill to the House Rules Committee. The rules committee will then gut the budget committee’s reconciliation bill and drop in all of the deals that Speaker Pelosi arranges with members who vote for the Senate health-care bill in the House.” Those deals, he adds, “will be hard to scrutinize, and we may never know their full extent, since many of them will be orchestrated outside of health-care legislation.”

Regardless of how bad a reconciliation package looks, Ryan says it is the passage of the Senate bill in the House that troubles him the most. “The Senate parliamentarian made it clear today,” he says. “The Senate bill has to become law before reconciliation can be taken up in the Senate. Knowing this, the Democrats are doing whatever they can to convince House members to walk the plank. But let’s be very clear: If the Senate bill passes in the House, it’s not just some setup for reconciliation — it’s a huge, new federal entitlement that’ll be signed into law.”

“To get that, they need to make promises to members about what’ll come next, so look for them to thread the needle on policy changes and abortion in the budget and rules committees,” Ryan says. “Reconciliation is a distraction for the Democratic leadership — something to talk about with members while keeping their eye on the main prize, which is passing the Senate bill.”

In the meantime, you know what you need to do: Melt the phones. Attend a rally. Email your Congresional reps in the House and Senate. Make your voices be heard!

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