Paging Alan Frumin! Why reconcilliation may be no Dem silver bullet for healthcare reform

July 22, 2009

Trying to push healthcare reform through the Senate (via the reconcilliation process) with just 51 votes is problematic at best for the Dems. This, from my pal Rich Lowry:

Just talked to Sen. Judd Gregg, who has taken a preliminary look at how much of a health-care bill could be moved through the budget reconciliation process in the Senate, thus making it unnecessary to get 60 votes. He thinks big parts of it won’t qualify. This involves parliamentary arcana, so bear with me. The Byrd rule determining what qualifies for reconciliation says, among other things, that a provision must have more than a merely incidental budgetary impact, i.e. it has to be a real budgetary measure and not a policy change that you hope to hustle through reconciliation just because it’s easier. Looking at the Kennedy bill as a test case, Gregg thinks the public option clearly wouldn’t meet this test. It’s essentially a policy event, not a budget event. Neither would the so-called “gateways” or exchanges, the insurance market reforms (guaranteed issue, etc.), or the 84 new authorized programs in the bill. What most obviously meet the test are the tax increases and the Medicare cuts. Ultimately, the Senate parliamentarian makes the call. But it’s clear that reconciliation isn’t the simple expedient for pushing through health-care legislation that some are portraying it to be.

Me: The Senate parlimentarian is Alan Frumin. Here is a bit on him from The Hill:

Frumin was criticized in 2003, first by Republicans after he ruled that they couldn’t use reconciliation rules to consider a $350 billion tax cut bill. A few weeks later, he piqued Democrats by dismissing as out of order several of their amendments to a Defense Department authorization  bill.

Frumin, who normally sits below the presiding officer on the Senate dais, has worked in the parliamentarian’s office since 1977. He went to college at Colgate, has a law degree from Georgetown and has co-authored a book on Senate rules.

Budget experts believe Frumin can take the heat.

“He’s known for being substantively rigorous and he understands the value of precedent,” said Stan Collender, a partner at Qorvis Communications and a former Democratic budget aide. “He’s not likely to just come up with a ruling that’s completely off the wall. He’s known to do his job really well and tries to call it pretty straight.”

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