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The Senate parliamentarian

Alan Frumin, the Senate parliamentarian, is in the news lately, as he'll be the guy to decide any technical disputes over reconciliation. If you're looking for a good profile of him and his job, I recommend this one. If you're looking for a good photograph of him in jean shorts, I recommend this one.

I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that the Senate parliamentarian's rulings are not going to be as key to this process as some think. The Democrats are going to be pretty conservative about what they stick in the reconciliation sidecar, and the big-ticket items -- subsidies and taxes -- fit easily into the rules. The parliamentarian would've been a very big deal if Democrats had attempted to do the whole bill through reconciliation, but what's left shouldn't be that difficult. But who knows.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 4, 2010; 4:44 PM ET
 
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Comments

As long as you have 51 Democrats willing to do the job, the parliamentarian is really not essential.

Biden would be the presiding officer- any ruling made by the parliamentarian is subject to be overrulled by him. If he does overrule, the Republicans can appeal the ruling. The Democrats then just need to move to table the Republican's appeal, which goes to a vote immediately. Then you have 51 Democrats vote down the appeal, and bam, parliamentarian overrulled.

There are still some semblances of majority rules in the Senate.

Posted by: cbaratta | March 4, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

What matter is how the Senate Parliamentarian may rule on any point of order objection against the Republican's attempt to submit endless amendments ? How likely is the Parliamentarian going to view this tactic and such amendments as dilatory ? If he rules in Republican's favor, will Vice President Biden step in to overrule him ?

But this may not matter at all if House democrats have been fooled into voting to approve the Senate bill by the time reconciliation happens in Senate. Since Obamacare would have become law by then, I wonder if the President and the Senate democrats would have the will to fight to actually get the reconciliation bill through? Those democrats in House who have voted for the Senate, in the hope that reconcilation may succeed, may be left holding the bag. In the end, both Obama and Senate democrats may care less about them because, come November 2010, these House democrats are likely to be wiped up by Republicans anyway

Posted by: ng_kar_yan | March 4, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I tend to agree.

I think this is more about Republicans doing their usual smokescreen, misdirection thing, as well as giving more red meat for their supporters.

Posted by: JERiv | March 4, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Not just jean shorts, but cut off jean shorts!

I'm becoming more and more convinced that the Senate side of this is far less of a problem than getting the Senate bill through the House.

Posted by: MosBen | March 4, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

You are right MosBen. It will be a heavy lift to get 216 dems to hold their noses and vote for this bill, but I think that it will happen. The dems have to hang together on this one or they will surely all hang separately in November. They may hang separately in November anyway, but passing the bill makes it more likely that they will survive.

Posted by: srw3 | March 4, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

I agree that at this point the House is the major problem, not the Senate. Not one mention of Stupak from Ezra?

Posted by: scarlota | March 4, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

It's worth keeping in mind as we go forward that Alan Frumin was handpicked by Republicans in May 2001 to be the parliamentarian after they fired Bob Dove since he wouldn't let them use reconciliation multiple times per year. Any minute now you'll be hearing how actually Frumin is in the bag for Democrats and that he's part of the left-wing conspiracy. Oops, Jim DeMint is way ahead of me: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0310/33814.html

Posted by: vvf2 | March 4, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

How many people do you think are going to just click on the second link and not the first? I am ashamed to say I can name one confirmed example.

Posted by: HerooftheBeach | March 4, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

If the House passes the Senate bill and Obama signs it and you have actual legislation to reconcile to the budget, there won't be much of anything for the parliamentarian to rule on.

However, if the Senate tries to reconcile a bill that has never become legislation, something that I don't believe has ever been attempted, and which makes no sense, the parliamentarian will likely rule that process invalid. Then Biden will rule otherwise, and I'm not sure what you are left with. Except a really good argument for the Republicans that the Democrats engaged in unprecedented disregard of the rules to jam their health care bill down the throats of the voters.

Posted by: bgmma50 | March 4, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

“the big-ticket items — subsidies and taxes — fit easily into the rules”

not too sure about that.



•There is a separate Senate point of order against legislation that increases long-term budget deficits.

If CBO says that this bill increases the budget deficit by more than $5 B for any of the following periods:

2020-2029, 2030-2039, 2040-2049, or 2050-2059,

then the bill dies unless there are 60 votes to waive this point of order.


Posted by: SisterRosetta | March 4, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

"But who knows." Funny what frequent blogging about the US Senate will do to the human brain.

Posted by: golewso | March 4, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

"If CBO says that this bill increases the budget deficit by more than $5 B for any of the following periods..."

SisterRosetta, please do your homework. The CBO scoring has the bill LOWERING deficts (deficit neutral or better has always been the Democratic aim in crafting the bills), by a modest amount in the first decade, and then by a much larger amount in the decade that follows.

So your "if" is already an "NOT if" and your entire point, Sister, is moot.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 4, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

Patrick


I don't know but so they consider the whole bill score or the specific provision (ie increases in subsidies)

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 4, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Patrick


I don't know but so they consider the whole bill score or the specific provision (ie increases in subsidies)

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 4, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr,

I won't claim to be certain that I completely understand SisterRosetta's comment about "a separate Senate point of order," but I think we are talking about the overall legislation when we talk about CBO scoring on those ten year time brackets that the good Sister brings up. The ten year time horizon business is why the Bush tax cuts will expire unless passed into law.

I don't think the CBO has to score every provision of the bill in isolation, and I don't think that would make sense.

I think the points of order on specific provisions will only be about whether a specific provision has any direct fiscal impact at all (as defined by the reconciliation criteria), which is the reason (for example) that adding language about abortion is considered highly problematic in the event of a Byrd Rule challenge.

Ezra's post earlier this week cataloging parts of bills that have been struck over the years because of the Byrd rule seems to support that idea that those pieces were removed because of their basic nature, rather than CBO scoring of any single provison standing alone.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 4, 2010 11:51 PM | Report abuse

Isn't true that if the Vice-President presides over the Senate he can overrule the parliamentarian if he so chooses.

I know it is likely rare, but it can be a safety if that turns out to be the case.

Posted by: clarenceflanders | March 5, 2010 1:21 AM | Report abuse

clarenceflanders,

That is true, the VP need only confer with the Parliamentarian before making the ruling.

However, I am sure that the Democrats will think very carefully about the circumstances under which that turn of events might come to pass, so as not to give an ounce of fuel to the tired Republican arguments about the bill being "jammed through."

The goal will be to craft a bill that won't contain any provisions that seem even marginal for the reconciliation criteria, to avoid any serious challenges and close calls.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 5, 2010 2:12 AM | Report abuse

Jean shorts! HEE!

Ah, Ezra. Lots o' love for ya, man.

Posted by: roquelaure_79 | March 5, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Ezra:

This makes sense to me except for one fact that I have been trying to get an answer to. Shortly before the health care summit, in response to the Anthem Blue Cross premium increase in California, Obama announced that his revised version of hcr would include regulatory authority to limit unreasonable premium increases. It was my understanding that this was not in the Senate bill. It also does not seem to me to have much of a budget impact, because it's about the rates that private insurers charge private citizens. So how can it be included in a reconciliation bill? Is it just that it's pretty safe politically, and so no one is likely to challenge it?

Posted by: martin_blank | March 5, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

As we are learning, a nuclear physicist would be a better fit to interpret the convoluted rules and precedents of the Senate. Te Senate has become an archaic relic that stands firmly in the way of the progress of this republic. If they cannot change their rules to be democratic and less obstructive, the Senate should be abolished. There is no good reason that a unicameral legislature would not work.

Posted by: makeitwright | March 5, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

"Shortly before the health care summit, in response to the Anthem Blue Cross premium increase in California, Obama announced that his revised version of hcr would include regulatory authority to limit unreasonable premium increases. It was my understanding that this was not in the Senate bill. It also does not seem to me to have much of a budget impact, because it's about the rates that private insurers charge private citizens. So how can it be included in a reconciliation bill?"

I think the White House would argue that unfair rate increases will potentially increase impact the subsidies paid to assist the uninsured to obtain coverage. If so, there is a direct fiscal impact to the US budget from the ability to reject unjustifiable rate increases in the marketplace that the government exchanges represent, and within which some taxpayer money will end up being spent. It fits with the overall goal of bending down the inflationary curve in health care, which directly impacts the budget.

Of course it remains to be seen whether the Obama idea for a Federal regulator to oversee rate increases will be among the provisions that the House and Senate leadership will include in the reconciliation package.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 5, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

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