As we head into the weekend, congressional Democrats are hoping that playoff baseball or college football is on your mind – anything to keep your eyes off the House Ways and Means Committee, where on Thursday Chairman Charlie Rangel (D., N.Y.) held a hearing to approve a “procedural measure” to send H.R. 3200, the Democrats’ prime health-care package, to the Budget Committee with “reconciliation instructions.”
In other words, the Democrats quietly tinkered with Obamacare legislation in the House in order to give Senate Democrats the ability to pass a health-care bill with just a simple majority of 51 votes. By marking up H.R. 3200 as legislation open to the “reconciliation” process, Rangel and company mischievously used a budgetary loophole to make their final legislative amalgam filibuster-proof.
Sound complicated? It is. To explain it all, NRO caught up with Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee. Rangel’s legislative maneuvers “initiated the process to jam their bill through via reconciliation,” says Ryan.
“Procedurally, you have to start in the House,” he continues. “The Ways and Means Committee is the Democrats’ first step in attempting to enable their bill to pass in the Senate without 60 votes. What’s important for the American people to understand is that Chairman Rangel used his prerogative to shut down debate.”
“Here’s how the system works. In the House, we have a complete majority-rule system,” says Ryan. “The chairmen control their committees. For reconciliation to be possible in the Senate, the House committee chairmen have to create a vehicle. The bill now moves from the Ways and Means Committee to the Budget Committee. Then from Budget, it will head to the Rules Committee. Rangel opened up another alley for the Democrats that they may use if they can’t get 60 votes in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid now has this ‘nuclear option’ in his back pocket.”
“This is a massive abuse of power,” says Ryan. “The reconciliation process was designed for the budget and to help reduce deficits and debt. Now it’s being used to create new entitlement programs. The Democrats hijacked the rules in order to exploit a procedure.”
“Senator Reid, if he can’t reach 60 votes, will probably use this,” predicts Ryan. “Then both sides will have an argument with the Senate parliamentarian about the Byrd rule, which says that parts of a bill can be eliminated if they do not directly reduce the deficit. It also says that you can’t bring incidental things into the bill. It’s like going to court.”
“Then the Democratic-appointed parliamentarian comes down with a ruling, saying whether this provision is in or out of the bill. It will look at subsidies, too,” says Ryan. “The question will be whether community rating – where health-insurance companies are mandated to provide coverage – is a direct-spending policy. The argument will revolve around these policies, and their need to go into effect, or not, and their fiscal outcomes.”
“A few years ago, we tried to pass medical-liability reform, which is always filibustered in the Senate,” recalls Ryan. “We said that if we stick it in reconciliation, we can pass it, since tort reform, according to the CBO, will reduce the federal government’s health-care costs. The parliamentarian said no, saying it was not a money-saving policy. We lost that one. We’ve also tried to stick ANWR [drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] in reconciliation before, arguing that it was a revenue-raising provision. We got it in there, but it didn’t work.”
“Using reconciliation is an art form, not a science,” says Ryan. Republicans “will have a lot of room to fight.”
“Using the tort-reform precedent from our own experience a few years ago, Republicans will be able to argue that a lot of the junk the Democrats want can’t go in the bill,” says Ryan. “That’s where Republican leaders like Senator Jon Kyl will be able to make some major arguments against the use of reconciliation.”