The Senate Parliamentarian has a new ruling out today and it’s an important one. President Obama must sign a health care bill before the Senate can act on a reconciliation package to fix the problems the House has with the Senate legislation. Once Obama signs the bill, it is law, and the House no longer has assurance that the items they want reconciled, will be reconciled.
The word from the Senate Parliamentarian, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), was reportedly passed to Republicans verbally, and what if Republicans are lying, muses one online site:
Now, it’s certainly possible that Senate Republicans are lying about this — they’re not exactly a truth-oriented bunch… Source: Washington Monthly
Senator Conrad’s advice, to Republicans, if true, is consistent with his previous statements, and it is not good news for House Democrats who had had devised two incredible machinations – and who would think either could be legal?
(1) In the House, a process called Hold-plus-reconciliation, which meant the House would pass the Christmas Eve Senate bill but hold the bill, without sending it to the President for his signature, thus holding the Senate hostage to accepting changes the House needed to make the legislation palatable to its members.
(2) The Slaughter process: The House would create their own package of changes to the Senate bill, then skip a roll call vote to approve the Senate bill, attach their own package and call it a piece of legislation – without ever passing the Senate bill. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the Chair of the House Rules Committee is reportedly creating this new rule, which essentially says the unpassed Senate bill is “deemed passed.”
If the Senate Parliamentarian holds that the Senate bill must be passed as a piece of legislation, and first signed by the president, before changes can be made, then neither of the two options above would be valid, as well they should not be.
Another stumbling block to those opposed to the bill is Joe Biden, who has the power to overrule the Senate parliamentarian, although that has not been done since Hubert Humphrey. If Biden should overrule the parliamentarian, the ruling can be appealed and the appeal is decided by majority vote (which doesn’t offer much hope for the opposition).
This does not mean that reconciliation cannot be managed after the Senate bill is signed into law, but it’s an uphill climb to get House members specifically opposed to federal funding of abortion, to trust that the Senate will actually make the changes. It’s not over, but the Conrade ruling is a positive turn.