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Parliamentarian Reverses Ruling, Negates GOP’s Budget Plan

The Senate Parliamentarian’s latest ruling has scuttled Republican leaders’ plan to cobble together a makeshift budget resolution, throwing into doubt whether a conference report can be passed by Friday.

The GOP leadership got the green light Wednesday morning from Parliamentarian Alan Frumin to report out a resolution that protects two different tax-cut packages under the rules of reconciliation — $350 billion for the Senate and $626 billion for the House.

Believing they had a deal, Republicans went back to their respective Members and told them all was set, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said. But then Frumin reversed his position and issued a letter Wednesday evening clarifying his ruling in response to questions from Democrats.

“If that conference report exceeded the instruction to the Finance Committee, the Byrd Rule would be available to remove provisions from that report sufficient to bring the measure into compliance with the reconciliation instruction to the Finance Committee, subject to House action,” Frumin wrote to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

Under the Byrd Rule, a higher House-passed number would not be protected from a Senate point of order that would take 60 votes to waive unless the Finance Committee reported out a tax bill exceeding $350 billion. And such a move is not considered likely given that Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) sits on Finance and opposes any tax-cut plan totaling more than $350 billion.

As a result, negotiators spent most of Thursday behind closed doors trying to come up with an alternative acceptable to both chambers. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said it would be “hours” before they emerged.

Nevertheless, House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (Calif.) said Thursday morning: “I am very confident there will be a budget. With the smoke surrounding all of this right now that is hard to see, I know. … Maybe we’ll be in Saturday.”

Republicans are in a difficult spot because they want to clear a budget resolution before the April 15 statutory deadline, and before the two-week spring recess commences this weekend. However, Senate moderates who will not support more than $350 billion in tax cuts and conservative House Members who say they won’t settle for just $350 billion are pulling from both directions.

The ruling was good news for Democrats, who warned Wednesday that Republicans were using procedural tricks to force a bigger tax-cut package upon the Senate.

They feared that Republicans would not just be content to have two different numbers that would be reconciled later but instead would sneak a bigger tax cut through the Senate under the cover of reconciliation rules.

Republicans denied that such a move was their intent.

“I think it defies definition to say that we will now have an irreconcilable reconciliation,” Daschle said. “But that, in essence, is what the Parliamentarian ruled yesterday morning: that we didn’t have to reconcile the reconcilable issues within the budget, that we could be content for the Congress to have two positions on taxes. …”

“That could mean, then, we could have two numbers … on anything else that may fit under reconciliation in the future.”

He then lauded Frumin for his latest ruling.

Frumin is in an unenviable position considering that his predecessor, Bob Dove, lost his job in part because he would not allow Republicans to offer more than one tax-centered reconciliation bill in 2001.

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