Parliamentarian rules against first GOP objection to healthcare 'fixes' bill

Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin ruled against Senate Republicans Monday night, setting aside the first of many expected procedural objections from the GOP.

The parliamentarian ruled that changes to a proposed excise tax on high-cost plans would not violate the 1974 Budget Act by changing contributions to the Social Security trust fund.

Republican procedural experts had argued the impact on Social Security was enough to violate the Byrd Rule and derail the whole bill.

Republicans also objected on grounds the excise tax would not go into effect until after the five-year window set by the Budget Resolution. The parliamentarian has not yet ruled on this issue, according to a senior GOP aide.

"The parliamentarian issued guidance on the 310g point of order challenge to the entire bill," said the aide. "Not in our favor this time."

Democrats had already reviewed the bill in an eight-hour meeting with Frumin and removed portions he signaled could run afoul of budget rules.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) predicted that the parliamentarian may rule against them on some issues but that such setbacks would have little impact on the cost or policy substance of the legislation.

Monday was the first time Frumin met jointly with Democrats and Republicans to discuss the reconciliation package.

Republicans plan to raise another challenge on grounds the bill would improperly establish a healthcare reform implementation fund with a $1 billion appropriation. 

GOP aides argue this would violate the Budget Act's Byrd Rule because the expenditure falls within the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee, which did not receive a reconciliation instruction from the Budget panel.

Only the Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committees received reconciliation instructions.

Republicans plan on raising other objections throughout the week.

"Because the notoriously messy reconciliation process has yielded so many drafting errors, Republicans will spend the week identifying each error and using all available tools to strike them from the text," said a GOP aide.