Senate Democrats are planning to pass the final changes to landmark healthcare legislation by the end of the week but must first get past a final Republican stand.
Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDraft House bill ignites new Yucca Mountain fight Week ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road MORE (D-Nev.) wants to bring the reconciliation package to the Senate floor by Tuesday afternoon. A senior Democratic aide said the goal is to pass the bill by Friday or Saturday.
Senior Democratic and Republican staff met with the Senate parliamentarian at noon on Monday to debate a potentially lethal procedural objection to the package.
Republicans have argued the legislation violates the 1974 Budget Act because an excise tax on high-cost health plans would change contributions to the Social Security Trust Fund.
The act prohibits consideration of any reconciliation resolution that “contains recommendations with respect to the old-age, survivors, and disability insurance program established under title II of the Social Security Act.”
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.C.) said last week that Democrats were confident the GOP objection would fail.
“There’s no change in law occurring here,” he said. “There is a provision to transfer money to the Social Security fund to make up for any indirect effects to the fund, which is just a good policy thing to do.”
The parliamentarian was still deliberating over the objection as of press time. If he ruled for the Republicans, it could drag down the entire package, said GOP aides.
“We assumed Democrats would have worked hard to grease the skids on this decision, and the fact that it’s taken so long to deliberate is a good indication that we’ve got a solid case,” said a GOP aide.
Earlier this month, Democrats met with Parliamentarian Alan Frumin for eight hours to review the reconciliation package, and have since removed sections he warned could fall to procedural objections.
But those early warnings from the parliamentarian were not conclusive, because he did not have a chance to hear Republicans argue their side.
GOP aides complained that Democrats refused a bipartisan meeting with Frumin over the weekend because they didn’t want to risk an adverse ruling on the reconciliation package before the House passed the Senate healthcare reform bill.
Some House Democrats might have voted against the bill if they knew changes they favor could not pass through the Senate this week under the special budgetary process.
Conrad predicted last week that some of the Republican objections would win the endorsement of the parliamentarian, but he predicted they would have little impact on the cost or policy substance of the bill.
Republicans will also argue to the parliamentarian that the excise tax violates the Byrd Rule of the Budget Act because it falls outside the budget window.
The reconciliation instructions, which Democrats will use to pass healthcare changes with a simple majority vote, were contained in a budget resolution covering years 2010 through 2014. The excise tax in the reconciliation bill doesn’t go into effect until 2018.
Republicans will also challenge the reconciliation package because it would establish a healthcare reform implementation fund with a $1 billion appropriation.
GOP aides argue this would violate the Byrd Rule because the expenditure falls within the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee, which did not receive a reconciliation instruction from the Budget panel.
“It’s a $1 billion appropriation, which violates the Byrd Rule because appropriating funds does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee or the HELP Committee,” according to a GOP memo, making reference to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Democratic and Republican aides plan to hold additional meetings over the course of the week to debate additional procedural objections.
The chamber is expected to begin floor debate of the reconciliation package on Tuesday. The debate is limited under the rules to 20 hours.
After debate time has expired, senators will have an opportunity to vote on any GOP objections upheld by the parliamentarian. Points of order can be waived by a vote of 60 senators, but that is unlikely because Republicans control 41 seats and are unified in opposing Democratic healthcare reform legislation.
The parliamentarian may issue rulings on GOP objections at any time over the next several days, according to a Democratic leadership aide.
Democrats can overturn the parliamentarian through a ruling of the presiding chair that could be supported by a majority vote of the chamber. But such a maneuver is extremely rare and would be considered highly controversial.
Democratic centrists such as Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganLinking repatriation to job creation Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock MORE (D-N.C.) have said they would be reluctant to vote to overrule the parliamentarian.