POLITICS

Sen. Conrad says health care process may never, ever end

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Mary Katharine Ham

Sen. Kent Conrad, speaking to Roll Call and Fox, says the Senate will likely be unable to pass unchanged the reconciliation bill the House passes, even if the House can pass it:

Conrad said the Senate Parliamentarian has declined to make rulings on several issues in the bill that Republicans are likely to challenge under the “Byrd rule.” That rule states that, among other things, every provision of a budget reconciliation bill must have a budget impact and cannot be “extraneous.”

“Although we’ve spent many, many hours with the Parliamentarian, some things he has not yet rendered a conclusion” on, Conrad said. “He wants to hear from both sides before he does.”

Conrad continued: “Do I expect there will be some additional Byrd rule challenges that will be upheld? Yeah. I do.”

Sixty votes are needed to waive Byrd rule points of order, but with only 59 members in the Democratic Conference and united GOP opposition to the bill, Democrats are unlikely to meet that threshold if the Parliamentarian decides any provision in the bill violates the Byrd rule or the budget act. If a point of order is sustained, the offending provision would be struck from the bill, and the entire measure would need to passed again in the House before heading to the president for his signature.

Conrad said House leaders were fully aware that some Byrd rule challenges might be successful, even though House Members have insisted that the Senate pass the measure unamended and unchanged. The House is expected to vote on the reconciliation bill Sunday while simultaneously passing the larger Senate-passed health care bill.

“They’re fully aware where we stand,” Conrad said. “They know because they’ve agreed to take lots of things out in order to avoid Byrd rule issues, but they know full well, as do we, that the Parliamentarian has not reached conclusion on everything and won’t until he hears from both sides. And, you know, I just think that the odds would tell you — I mean out of 153 pages [in the bill] — that there are probably going to be a few things that still will be subject to a Byrd rule challenge and maybe some of them successful.”

Conrad also said the Parliamentarian has not ruled on whether changes to the “Cadillac” insurance tax would violate budget act rules prohibiting provisions from dealing with Social Security. Senate Republicans have said they are likely to mount a challenge to those changes.

No wonder Obama postponed his trip until June.

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