|03-18-2010, 12:02 PM|
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Republicans plotting to deal a defeat to Obama
It looks like winning or losing on proceedure is the name of the game here...
Republicans plot ways to block health reform in Senate
By CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN & MANU RAJU | 3/18/10 4:39 AM EDT
Democrats might like to think that health care reform is all but a done deal if it clears the House, but the Senate is where Republicans have been plotting for months to sentence it to a painful procedural death.
Republican aides have been mining the Senate’s arcane parliamentary rules for an attack that aims at striking elements both broad and narrow from the bill, weakening the measure and ultimately defeating it. Their goal is to force changes that leave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) without 51 votes to pass it, or at the very least, that drive it back to the House for a second vote that drags out the process and saps Democratic resolve.
But the first step in the Republicans’ game plan is making sure they never need to use the rest of it.
“Our initial goal is to stop the bill in the House,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “Part of convincing House members to vote for the Senate bill is that it can be fixed by reconciliation, and I think that is a highly questionable proposition.”
It’s a pre-emptive strike meant to scare jittery House Democrats into withholding their support from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who needs 216 votes to pass the Senate bill and a companion measure that fixes unpopular elements of the bill. If she falls short, comprehensive health care reform dies.
Senate Republicans will advance their campaign Thursday with floor speeches detailing why a provision to delay the “Cadillac tax” — a must-have for House liberals in the companion bill — could fall victim to the chamber’s parliamentary rules.
The provision is just one of many that Republicans expect to challenge. Under a strategy developed by Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune of South Dakota and Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Republicans are plotting ways to strike major elements of the reconciliation bill, including changes to the special Medicaid deal for Nebraska and the carve-out for Florida senior citizens from Medicaid Advantage cuts. They are also going small bore, looking to strike seemingly minor provisions, including one that would fix language dealing with the employer mandate and the construction industry.
One senior Republican aide said staff and senators believe that as much as 40 percent of the measure can be killed through procedural objections.
At the same time, Senate Republicans are engaging in an under-the-radar effort to target wavering House Democrats by engaging local media in their districts — mainly in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They are using GOP heavyweights, including Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), to drive coverage.
Democrats aren’t quaking at the prospect of the Republican offensive.
Senate Democratic aides spent the weekend with the Senate parliamentarian, scrubbing the legislative language to ensure that “very little” of their bill will be subject to challenge, said North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Budget Committee.
“We’re going through a laborious process — we spent 8 hours with the parliamentarian on Sunday — so there’s a laborious process to identify the things that should be stricken or taken out,” Conrad said.
There is reason for the Democratic confidence. Every reconciliation bill introduced since the fast-track rules were first used in 1980 has passed.
“If it gets here, it will pass,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). “It only requires 50 votes plus the vice president, so that is an easy hurdle for them.”
But here is what gives Republicans comfort: Two-thirds of those reconciliation bills faced procedural challenges.
Every line in the bill must adhere to complex rules or risk being struck by the parliamentarian. If so much as a comma is changed in the bill, it will need to return to the House for a second vote. Depending on what is eliminated, passage in the House could be tough.
“It will go back with a bunch of holes in it,” Coburn said.
Under the Democratic plan, the House would pass the Senate bill and the sidecar measure by this weekend. The president would then sign the Senate bill, and the Senate would take up the sidecar measure through reconciliation — a parliamentary maneuver that allows Democrats to sidestep the filibuster but subjects the bill to a byzantine set of procedural challenges.
The sidecar measure would delay implementation of the Cadillac tax from 2013 to 2018, remove the Nebraska and Florida deals, raise the Medicare payroll tax on the wealthy, boost subsidies for lower-income people to purchase insurance and narrow the doughnut hole in the Medicare prescription drug program.
The question is whether the sidecar measure can survive the budget reconciliation process.
Republicans have at least two major tools available to them.
The first involves points of order. Republicans can raise budget points of order — arguing, for example, that the bill does not comply with the chamber’s pay-as-you-go rules. But the bigger weapon is the Byrd Rule, named after Sen. Robert W. Byrd (D-W.Va.), which prohibits lawmakers from including anything “extraneous” in the bill. The bill must meet six different tests, such as requiring every element to affect the budget in a significant way.
The second tool is the amendment process. After 20 hours of debate, Republicans can offer as many amendments as possible. The goal is to force Democrats into votes on politically treacherous issues and force the approval of amendments that kill the bill. The voting could go on for days, unless Democrats convince the parliamentarian that Republicans are being “dilatory.”
Here’s an example of how the Byrd Rule could wreak havoc for Democrats.
Senate Republican aides have begun advancing the idea that Democrats cannot make changes to the excise tax on Cadillac insurance plans through reconciliation — an argument that could cause House liberals to think twice about supporting the legislation.
The reason is that the proposed changes to the so-called Cadillac tax could violate the Byrd Rule’s prohibition on making changes to Social Security. Republicans say that, according to reports from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, part of the deficit savings over the next 10 years stems from increased Social Security revenues generated by the Cadillac tax, which was supposed to start in 2013.
But under the deal reached between the White House and Democratic congressional leaders — and codified in the reconciliation bill — the tax would not kick in until 2018.
Republicans are circulating a document that concludes that this change would reduce revenues to the Social Security program and would fall outside the current budget window, thus compelling them to raise two points of order to strike this provision from the bill.
If the parliamentarian agrees with Republicans, Democrats would need 60 votes to waive the point of order — which they don’t have.
A House Democratic aide said the leaders would not proceed “until we have a comfort level with what we can and cannot do in a reconciliation bill. We are confident that the changes in the excise tax will survive.”
But on Thursday, Republicans plan to give raising doubts about it their best shot.
At least four senators will go to the floor to argue that House Democrats should not trust their Senate counterparts when they say reconciliation will protect their interests.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories...#ixzz0iYJiub9q