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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guerilla warfare in the Senate

What's next on the budget-busting, government-expanding, abortion-funding healthcare legislation passed Sunday by the U.S. House of Representatives?

Procedural guerilla warfare in the Senate.

The House passed two bills on Sunday while defeating a Republican measure to ban government funding of abortion. President Obama today will sign the first bill passed, which is the Senate version of healthcare overhaul.

Once the President signs the original bill, the Senate immediately will take up the second bill passed by the House. That bill is a "reconciliation" bill designed to "fix" numerous aspects of the Senate bill that House Democrats did not like.
"Reconciliation" used to bypass bipartisanship
To pass this second "reconciliation" bill to change the main healthcare bill that will go into law today, Democrats are deploying a rarely used technical legislative process called "reconciliation." Sen. Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, designed the process decades ago to streamline votes solely on deficit-reducing aspects of legislation. Votes not solely on budgetary aspects but on policy aspects of legislation do not qualify for the streamlined 51-vote majority under "reconciliation."
The "reconciliation" process disallows the traditional Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome. With the recent election of Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown, Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
Democrats now are trying to use the "reconciliation" technique to bypass the filibuster and pass significant policy changes to the original Senate legislation—the bill signed by President Obama today.
The fighting won't be pretty, and the "reconciliation" bill faces dozens and potentially hundreds of procedural challenges by the GOP. From Roll Call:

Democrats, meanwhile, hope to clear the reconciliation package no later than Sunday, and leadership continues to push for party unity during the amendment process. The majority will attempt to put the Republicans on the defensive politically and make the case for the policy benefits in the legislation while defending the bill against GOP procedural attacks.
The reconciliation package is expected to drop on the Senate floor this afternoon. Senate Democrats expect the legislation's allowable debate time of 20 hours to expire on Thursday, after which the Republicans are likely to unleash a flood of amendments in a "vote-a-rama" session. Under reconciliation rules, there is no cap on amendments, but with no debate time permitted on those amendments, Senators are likely to engage in one roll-call vote after another.
The GOP hopes, at a minimum, to force the House to vote again on the measure.

Republicans plan to raise several points of order, and if [chamber Parliamentarian Alan] Frumin sides with the GOP on any such efforts, Democrats lack the 60 votes required to overcome points of order. Even the smallest change to a reconciliation package requires that it be sent back to the House.
With the narrow margin by which the original healthcare overhaul bill passed in the House, Democrat leaders want desperately to avoid another vote. 
More legal battles coming… 
Meanwhile, a growing number of states are preparing legal challenges to fight the imposition of federal mandates and budget burdens. Those challenges are just an example of the hurdles that healthcare overhaul faces in upcoming months. For an insightful view of key legal issues now surrounding the legislation, see the Georgetown University constitutional law professor Randy Barnett's piece in the Washington Post, "Is health-care reform constitutional?"

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