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Conrad Predicts Senate Changes to Reconciliation Bill

Updated: 4:28 p.m.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Thursday that it is unlikely the Senate will be able to pass a health care reconciliation bill unchanged from what the House passes.

Conrad said the Senate Parliamentarian has declined to make rulings on several issues in the bill that Republicans are likely to challenge under the “Byrd rule.” That rule states that, among other things, every provision of a budget reconciliation bill must have a budget impact and cannot be “extraneous.”

“Although we’ve spent many, many hours with the Parliamentarian, some things he has not yet rendered a conclusion” on, Conrad said. “He wants to hear from both sides before he does.”

Conrad continued: “Do I expect there will be some additional Byrd rule challenges that will be upheld? Yeah. I do.”

Sixty votes are needed to waive Byrd rule points of order, but with only 59 members in the Democratic Conference and united GOP opposition to the bill, Democrats are unlikely to meet that threshold if the Parliamentarian decides any provision in the bill violates the Byrd rule or the budget act. If a point of order is sustained, the offending provision would be struck from the bill, and the entire measure would need to passed again in the House before heading to the president for his signature.

Conrad said House leaders were aware that some Byrd rule challenges might be successful, even though House Members have insisted that the Senate pass the measure unamended and unchanged. The House is expected to vote on the reconciliation bill Sunday while simultaneously passing the larger Senate-passed health care bill.

“They’re fully aware where we stand,” Conrad said. “They know because they’ve agreed to take lots of things out in order to avoid Byrd rule issues, but they know full well, as do we, that the Parliamentarian has not reached conclusion on everything and won’t until he hears from both sides. And, you know, I just think that the odds would tell you — I mean out of 153 pages [in the bill] — that there are probably going to be a few things that still will be subject to a Byrd rule challenge and maybe some of them successful.”

Conrad noted, however, that to prevent any uncertainty on the Senate side, the House may yet opt to remove suspect provisions before they vote on it.

Conrad also said the Parliamentarian has not ruled on whether changes to the “Cadillac” insurance tax would violate budget act rules prohibiting provisions from dealing with Social Security. Senate Republicans have said they are likely to mount a challenge to those changes. The Cadillac tax, which was included in the Senate-passed health care bill, would impose taxes on expensive health insurance plans. House Democrats balked because of the effect it could have on union-negotiated health plans, and it was scaled back in the reconciliation measure.

“Our people have been over this and over this. They don’t think that that would be a well-taken Byrd rule challenge. But I think in fairness, the Parliamentarian, to my knowledge, has not ruled on that. And he will be listening to both sides,” Conrad said.

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