Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reconciliation Hardball

I was wondering how long it would take the Republicans to trot out this strategy against the reconciliation approach:
The White House may renege on passing fixes to the Senate's healthcare bill once the House has passed it, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) claimed Thursday.

Gregg, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, suggested that President Barack Obama may back off making changes to the Senate bill through the reconciliation process, which the White House and the Senate have said they would use to make changes to the Senate bill in order to placate House members.

"They're using reconciliation to pass the great big bill," Gregg said during an appearance on CNBC. "Once they pass the great big bill, I wouldn't be surprised if the White House didn't care if reconciliation passed. I mean, why would they?"
But they can be even more insidious than this--as well they should be.

I'm assuming that the Democratic strategy will be to negotiate the reconciliation bill up front, before putting the original bill to a vote in the House. But, per Hennessey's excellent post on mechanics, the original bill has to be passed before considering the reconciliation bill or the CBO won't score it as budget-negative or -neutral, which makes the major portions of the reconciliation vulnerable to being objected to on a point of order.

But here's where things will get dicey for the Democrats: Any clause in the reconciliation bill is still challengeable on points of order if it violates the Byrd rule, i.e., if it doesn't pertain solely to the budget. Now, the Dems have the whip-hand here, even if the Parliamentarian recommends against them, because the President of the Senate (aka the VP) has the ultimate power to rule on points of order. But things are going to look really, really, really bad if Biden overrides the Parliamentarian's advice over and over and over.

So here's the poison that the Republicans can whisper into the ears of wavering House Democrats: "Sure, you can pre-negotiate everything with the Senate. But even if you trust the Senate Democrats to submit and not amend what's negotiated, we Republicans will guarantee that we'll turn whatever you've negotiated into swiss cheese through point-of-order objections, to the point that it will be crystal-clear to your constituents that, not only did you flagrantly ignore their wishes by passing the original bill in the first place, but that you are a patsy of the first order for believing that it could be fixed through reconciliation. Hey--the campaign ad writes itself. All we have to do is insert your name and run it in your market. Have fun, boys!"

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