David Drucker at Roll Call:
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. House Democratic leaders last week began looking at crafting a legislative rule that would allow the House to approve the Senate health care bill, but not forward it to Obama for his signature until the Senate clears the reconciliation package.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved Thursday to put Senate Republicans on the defensive over health care, sending a letter to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in which he dared the GOP to vote against reform.
Reid also defended the Democrats’ use of reconciliation to get a final health care reform bill to the president’s desk, noting that the bulk of health care reform was approved under regular order via the package that cleared the Senate on Christmas Eve. Reid also emphasized that Republicans have used the procedure several times over the years.
However, Reid also promised in the letter that Republicans would have ample opportunity to amend the reconciliation package.
“Reconciliation is designed to deal with budget-related matters, and some have expressed doubt that it could be used for comprehensive health care reform that includes many policies with no budget implications. But the reconciliation bill now under consideration would not be the vehicle for comprehensive reform — that bill already passed outside of reconciliation with 60 votes,” Reid wrote to McConnell.
Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:
So there you have it, House Democrats. Once you vote for the Senate bill, Obama will sign it, the Left will declare victory, and who knows if reconcilliation will ever happen. This confirms that the Democratic leadership has once again been hiding the ball and not leveling with either their own members or with the public about the procedural aspects of the bill. It will certainly not help to calm the nerves of House Democrats, who already suspect the “fix” is in and that they are being trapped into voting for the noxious Senate bill — Cornhusker Kickback and all.
In the Democrats’ Senate Caucus meeting today, Kent Conrad apparently argued that this left the Democrats in an even stronger moral position. The reconciliation rider fixes unpopular elements of the health-care bill: the Nebraska deal, the Florida deal, the excise tax and so forth. If Republicans figure out some nuclear level of obstruction that could actually derail the reconciliation process, then they will effectively own the worst elements of the Senate bill, and Democrats can just spend their time hammering Republican obstructionism that has so lost touch with reality that they’d rather keep legislation they’re against than let Democrats fix it. Or so goes the argument.
Meanwhile, the hypocrisy that the state-based Senate and the district-based House have embraced in their ferocious denunciations of these deals gets a nice showcase in Rep. Mike Capuano’s list of complaints with the health-care bill. Most of them boil down to the need for Massachusetts to have more Nebraska-like deals.
Dan Perrin at Redstate:
Just like the Black Spy thought the White Spy was caged and an easy target, the trillion dollar President and the Speaker find themselves without the votes and trying again to cheat the U.S. Constitution, public opinion and voters who want Congress to stop the irrational ObamaCare quest and start over. Their persistent problem is they keep causing their colleagues mortal political harm with their increasingly hare-brained-Slaughter schemes.
You know, like lets-use-reconciliation-to-pass-the-hated-Senate-ObamaCare-bill. (It’s no shock that Obama has hit his lowest Gallup poll approval rating ever.)
Ironically, the trillion dollar President has created a bi-partisan health care effort, it’s just that it’s a bi-partisan alliance against his bill. What is causing cognitive dissonance in the White House and among the Democratic Party’s cognoscenti is the simple fact that the only thing bi-partisan about ObamaCare is the opposition to it.
And the Slaughter plan of passing ObamaCare without voting on it, in the face of the Senate Parliamentarian decision, the current political anti-incumbent environment, the views of independent voters and seniors about ObamaCare is as if the Democrats are like the self-immolating monks protesting the Vietnam War.
The Speaker’s problem is that not every Democrat has signed up for the ObamaCare self-immolation school of Pelosi politics.
David Dayen at Firedoglake:
This would disrupt the strategy to act on reconciliation before passing the full health care bill. The House simply does not trust the Senate to get the job done, and members also don’t want to have to take a vote on the Senate bill and its various distasteful deals. The idea before was to make a “self-executing” rule where the House would pass the reconciliation sidecar and “assume the Senate bill to have passed. According to these GOP sources, the Parliamentarian said they cannot do that.
There are still options to ensure the reconciliation changes. The President could wait on the signage of the bills until a reconciliation package is introduced, for example. And Harry Reid’s letter to Mitch McConnell would at least signal the Senate’s determination, reassuring House members. But they may still have to take a hard swallow on that Senate bill, although Republicans facing them in November would probably just lie and say they voted for all manner of nonsense regardless of what they do. Really that should not be a concern to any politician, what other people might put in a campaign ad.
Again, we have no way of knowing if this is true. You have unnamed GOP sources claiming that the Parliamentarian told them something verbally. A Senate Democratic leadership aide offered no comment on this. Nobody’s really talking publicly or on the record. So until then, I’d view this with skepticism.
Time to celebrate? Not yet. Waxman dropped a bombshell of his own a few hours ago when he said they’ve all but given up on the Stupak bloc and will try to get to 216 without them. It’s possible that they could convince enough Blue Dogs to trust the Senate on reconciliation and hold their noses to vote for Reid’s bill, but with the Stupak 12 all (allegedly) flipping to no and another 25 Democrats leaning heavily towards no, they have literally no margin for error. They’re at 216 on the button, with any single member in the caucus capable of killing the bill by flipping. Assuming they can keep the group together, though, that’s one solution to the new parliamentarian headache. Just pass Reid’s bill and hope for the best.
There’s another solution too, of course, although in light of today’s ruling it would require a brazen exercise of ruthless political power