Former Senate parliamentarian Robert Dove appeared on MSNBC this morning to demystify the reconciliation process and reiterate the fact that the Vice President is “the ultimate decider” of what can be included in a reconciliation package. “The parliamentarian can only advise. It is the Vice President who rules,” Dove said suggesting that Vice President Biden — who served in the Senate for 36 years — would be inclined to override the parliamentarian:
TODD: Not since Hubert Humphrey have we had a Vice President this familiar with senate rules either in Joe Biden.
DOVE: That’s why I brought this up, yes. Humphrey had been the majority whip. He had been in the senate since 1948. He felt very comfortable playing an important role. And it’s quite possible Vice President Biden —
Pushing back against the argument that reconciliation hasn’t been used on large pieces of legislation, Dove said, “reconciliation has been used a lot and I would never use the term illegitimate with regard to reconciliation.” “And it has been used starting in 1980 for very large, major bills. And it is a way, of course, of getting around the problem of the senate filibuster.”
Democrats would be using reconciliation to pass a much smaller package of fixes to the Senate health care bill and may have to rely on Biden to secure a new abortion compromise. In 1995, for instance, Dove disqualified a Republican effort to attach a provision banning federal funding for abortion to “a very large reconciliation bill”. “It was my view that that violated the Byrd rule, even though it did score. It would have saved the federal government money, but part of the Byrd rule is that if something is in there, not for its budgetary effect, but for its policy effect, that invokes something called the incidental test and it can be thrown out,” Dove explained.
Nelson Rockefeller was the last Vice President to play a role in the reconciliation process. Since then, “they have kind of been co-opted by the president and given an office down in the West Wing. Their interest in playing Senate politics has become attenuated.”
In an earlier interview with Lester Feder, Dove said the senate majority leader can also replace the Parliamentarian. “Various parliamentarians have been replaced over the years by the Secretary of the Senate when the Majority Leader was unhappy. Parliamentarians were asked to leave by the secretary of the Senate in 1980, in 1986, in 1994, and in 2001.”