Senate Democrats Don’t Expect Floodgates to Open on Changes to Reconciliation

Posted March 25, 2010 at 9:59am

Democratic Senators said the GOP’s ability to make two minor changes in the health care reconciliation bill will not open the floodgates to more amendment changes during Thursday’s continued vote-a-rama.

Democrats took dozens of tough votes Wednesday night and Thursday morning against all manner of GOP amendments in an attempt to keep the House-passed bill intact. But the Republicans’ success in finding two items that Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin said must be removed — per strict reconciliation rules — means the House will have to revote on the measure later Thursday.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) said Democrats were largely committed to keeping the reconciliation bill free of other amendments because it is largely intended to address House problems with the Senate health care bill that the president signed into law Sunday.

“I think that most Democrats agree that this is basically a conference report that was well negotiated between the House and the Senate and that its not up to the Senate at this point to make changes in the bill,” Cardin said.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) agreed, saying, “If we started to do anything of any significance, that would create a problem.”

Conrad also said the two items that Republicans identified last night are the sum and substance of what is likely to be changed in the bill, saying that conversations with Frumin over budget points of order have ceased and that Democrats won all but two of the fights over whether those points of order existed in the bill.

Successful budget points of order have the effect of striking offending language from the bill, thereby amending it. Sixty votes — one more than the Senate Democratic Conference has — are needed to retain such provisions.

Conrad said he was not shocked that Republicans were able to find a few weaknesses in the bill but was surprised at the provisions that Frumin ruled out of order.

For example, Republicans successfully challenged language in the bill that would make the reconciliation law conform with other laws — routine language for virtually all legislation.

“It is such a nothing that nobody thought would be an issue,” Conrad said. “It is a technical conforming amendment simply to put the legislation in line with what had already occurred and so it doesn’t [have a requisite cost estimate], and it was on that basis that it was cut out. … That’s just not typically something that would be any kind of a flag.”

Conrad said he told Republican leaders early Thursday morning, “I could have spent two years going over that bill. I would have never thought that was” a violation of budget reconciliation rules.

The other provision that was struck from the bill dealt with formulas for the maximum Pell Grant award, but Conrad said the issue was minor enough that the committees of jurisdiction could wait until next Congress to deal with the issue.