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Conrad Wants Controversial Carve-Out Axed

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) went on the defensive Thursday afternoon after Republicans seized on a carve-out in the health care reconciliation bill for his state as well as comments he made indicating the Senate would likely not be able to pass the bill unchanged.

Conrad told reporters that he has instructed his staff to ask the House to remove a provision from the bill allowing the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to continue receiving federal student loan subsidies, even though the program would be eliminated for other banks. Republicans had already dubbed the provision the “Bismarck Bank Job.”

“In this [partisan] environment, you can’t defend. It doesn’t matter what the merits are. It doesn’t matter,” said Conrad. “So I just told them take it out. … We negotiated this in good faith months ago. But it’s not worth it. It’s not right that it be used to misrepresent this package.”

Conrad also sought to clarify that his earlier remarks indicating that the reconciliation bill may not survive the Senate floor intact. He said Republicans and Democrats would likely make arguments to the Parliamentarian in the next few days — before the House votes on Sunday — and that any provisions that do not meet strict budget reconciliation rules would likely be stricken.

“I think from my earlier remarks some interpreted that to be that changes would happen after it came here,” he said. “My reference to things that will still need to come out is because the Parliamentarian said to us very clearly I’m not going to make final determinations on some of these things until I hear from both sides. But that will happen before the House package ever comes over here.”
He added, “Why are we going through this whole exercise? We’re trying to get a package that can come over here that has been thoroughly scrubbed.”

Earlier, Conrad held out the possibility that some questionable provisions may still be included in an attempt to see if they have support on the Senate floor. Any provisions that the Parliamentarian deems does not meet reconciliation rules would be stricken from the text, unless there were 60 votes to retain it. With only 59 Members of the Democratic Conference, Democrats are unlikely to find even one Republican willing to keep any provisions that run afoul of the rules.

“You have different people with different inclinations,” Conrad told reporters earlier. “My inclination is if I have a pretty good idea that it’s [subject to a point of order], I want to get it out of there. … But you have some different people with different agendas.”

Though the bill was unveiled Thursday, the House can still make changes before the Rules Committee meets, which could be as early as 8 a.m. Saturday.

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