Pelosi assures wary Democrats that Senate will pass their reconciliation fixes even though GOP eyes tactics to ‘hurt the bill’

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that lawmakers will be assured before voting for health-care legislation this weekend that senators will pass the fixes demanded by liberal House members in the reconciliation bill — but Republicans in the Senate are preparing to make sure that’s not the case.

“When our members go to vote, they will have all the assurance they need that this bill will be taken up by the Senate and passed by the Senate,” Pelosi told reporters Friday, according to Reuters.

The House is expected to try to pass the health-care bill in conjunction with a reconciliation bill that the Senate will have to take up.

A point of concern among some House Democrats is that they want to improve upon the Senate bill with changes such as higher subsidies to buy health insurance and the establishment of a national board to check premium increases, but they aren’t sure if their demands will make the cut after reconciliation goes to the Senate.

But Republican senators are formulating strategies on how to hurt and tinker with the reconciliation bill. Such a strategy will draw the health-care debate out for longer — even after the House passes the Senate bill — by forcing the changed bill to go back to the House.

Ed Corrigan, a top aide for Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, said the goal, if it comes to it, is to kill reconciliation. “We have a bunch of strategies that we are looking at,” he wrote by e-mail.

“Amendments are the primary vehicle, but we are combing through the bill looking at points of order and so forth to see what can be done to hurt the bill,” he said of the reconciliation bill.

Under reconciliation rules, Democrats in the Senate can pass that bill with just 51 votes instead of 60, though they are limited to changes of budgetary matters as stipulated by the Byrd rule.

A former Bush administration official very familiar with the legislative process said Republicans will work with the parliamentarian to find all of the Byrd rule violations to force them out of the bill. “They will look for any and all process violations,” the former official said.

In order to prolong the process to the chagrin of Democrats, Republicans will be able to take advantage of Senate rules that allow for a vote-a-thon, where an unlimited number of votes can be offered after time has run on the bill. “At some point the interest in recess will kick in but they can go for a good day straight just voting on provisions. Some of them could get adopted.”

“Members get tired and the amendments will be structured to be difficult to vote against,” the official said, also noting that Republicans likely have “some parliamentarian options up their sleeve that they haven’t let on about to surprise the majority.”

One parliamentary expert with more than two decades of experience in the House says that Democrats can avoid a long-drawn out situation of going back and forth with the House on the bill.

“Even if Republicans are successful in forcing changes to the reconciliation bill, requiring it go back to the House, the House Rules Committee could potentially dispose of the problem quickly,” according to the expert, who spoke on the condition they not be identified.

“They could effectively agree to the amendments and send the bill to the president without another vote by the full House.”