Robert Dove, a professor of legislative process at my alma mater who for twelve years was Senate parliamentarian, said that Vice President Joe Biden could in effect commandeer the reconciliation process in the Senate to force through a number of controversial aspects of health-care reform.
Since the reconciliation rules are intended to be used only to alter budget outlays and reduce the deficit, they give the Senate parliamentarian broad — and broadly subjective — powers to strip from reconciliation legislation any measures they deem “incidental” to those goals. Passing the “incidental” test is one of the major hurdles facing Congressional Democrats as they prepare Obamacare for a spin through the process, as they must convince current parliamentarian Alan Frumin that its major components are designed to reduce the deficit and not “write new policy.” (!)
But Dove said that Biden, in his constitutional capacity as President of the Senate, could override any ruling by the parliamentarian, though “no vice president, frankly, since Nelson Rockefeller in 1975, has exercised that right.”
At the end of the day, Dove — who was let go by then–Senate majority leader Trent Lott in 2001 and replaced by Frumin — said that health-care reform was a poor fit for reconciliation:
“This process is not designed to do a lot of policy making and it would be very difficult to achieve a number of things that people want to achieve” in the healthcare reform legislation, Dove said. “This could be a very long, exhausting process.”