Last night, Congressional Democrats, under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accomplished what had eluded generations of leaders before them and passed comprehensive health care reform that would extend coverage to some 32 million Americans. “Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge — we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility — we embraced it. We did not fear our future — we shaped it,” President Obama said last night. “This is what change looks like.”
As the Senate health care bill moves to the President’s desk, the reconciliation package enters the Senate, where Republicans are already threatening to derail it. “We will have a series of amendments on the substance of the bill that will highlight the massive Medicare cuts, the massive tax increases, and other deficiencies that we think are the reason the American people are against this bill,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The most substantive and immediate GOP challenge could occur as early as Tuesday, when the Senate plans to take up the bill. Republicans will try to send the reconciliation package back to the House by citing a rule that prohibits reconciliation measures from making ‘recommendations’ about Social Security. “The Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would have an ancillary effect on Social Security’s trust funds, and GOP lawmakers will argue that such a finding constitutes a ‘recommendation.'” They’ll be arguing that since the excise tax on high cost plans “would cause some employers to reduce the cost of their workers’ insurance and pay them higher wages,” workers would have to pay higher Social Security taxes, which would also have the effect of extending the life the life of the Social Security trust fund by $53 billion.
I asked Congressional expert Sarah Binder — a professor of political science at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution — about the validity of the GOP’s point of order, especially in light of the Democrats’ carefully crafted reconciliation package. Remember, Democrats excluded various portions of the President’s proposal — the rate review board and the undercover patients — to comply with the Senate’s reconciliation rules. They ping ponged the bill with the CBO to ensure that it complied with the reconciliation spending targets. Could they have missed something?
Binder says it’s possible. “I think there’s a good deal of uncertainty about how the Senate consideration of reconciliation will go,” Binder wrote to me in an email. “There are two issues– how far the GOP will exploit the boundaries of reconciliation limits (i.e. demanding votes on amendments after the 20 hours of debate) and whether the soon to be House-passed bill has really been Byrd-proofed.”
Theoretically, the Vice President can over-rule the parliamentarian’s “advice,” but Binder described it as “highly unlikely.” “In fact, it would really be nuclear.” “With respect to the Byrd rule, if a point of order is raised against a provision, parliamentarian renders his advice on whether or not the point of order should be sustained (i.e. there’s a Byrd rule violation). If so, Democrats would move to waive the point of order, but that would require 60 votes. I really cannot see the presiding officer ignoring the parliamentarian and ruling that the point of order is not sustained,” she said. “If any provision IS stripped from the bill, then the bill has to go back to the House.”
Live Pulse is reporting that Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin declined to issue a ruling Monday afternoon on whether the excise tax violated the rules of reconciliation. This sets up a serious show-down on the Senate floor.
,The Senate parliamentarian has tossed out a Republican challenge to the reconciliation bill’s excise tax provision.