The Hill: Alexander, Gregg threaten war over reconciliation fixes

Posted on March 12, 2010

Two senior Republicans on Thursday said they will use a grueling parliamentary process to chip away at healthcare reform legislation if Democrats decide to use reconciliation.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and ranking Republican Budget Committee member Judd Gregg (N.H.) said they will force votes on virtually every sentence of the healthcare reform bill to overcome Democrats' parliamentary maneuver.

Reconciliation, created by a 1974 budget act, allows bills to be passed with a simple majority of 51 votes — or 50, assuming Vice President Joe Biden breaks a tie — instead of the supermajority threshold of 60. Democrats currently control 59 seats.

Gregg said Republicans would force votes on a provision in the 1974 bill that says reconciliation can only be used to amend laws, plus another longstanding Senate rule that says reconciliation can only be used for budget-related issues, plus yet another Senate rule that says 60 votes are necessary to waive the budget-only rule. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that insisted he had 41 votes for the last roadblock, thereby denying Democrats the magic 60.

“There will be a lot of tough votes on this bill — a lot — that our colleagues are going to have to take,” Gregg said. “We’re going to go sentence by sentence through it, and if any sentence is deemed that that policy would be more significant than budget adjustments, I’ll raise a motion or someone could raise a motion, and that sentence will be knocked out.”

Decisions about what could be knocked out would be made by the Senate parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, whom both Democratic and Republican leaders said Thursday they are already talking to. Asked about a possible scenario in which Biden could simply overrule Frumin, as Senate rules allow, Gregg said he did not think Biden would do so because it would create “fundamental damage” to the chamber that Biden is known to revere.

Reid fired back at McConnell in his own letter on Thursday, vowing to push ahead and pursue a simple-majority vote on the bill.

“Many Republicans now are demanding that we simply ignore the progress we’ve made, the extensive debate and negotiations we’ve held, the amendments we’ve added (including more than 100 from Republicans) and the votes of a supermajority in favor of a bill whose contents the American people unambiguously support,” Reid wrote. “We will not. We will finish the job. We will do so by revising individual elements of the bills both houses of Congress passed last year, and we plan to use the regular budget reconciliation process that the Republican caucus has used many times.”

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also said Thursday that Democrats plan to offer a bill that is well-protected from any possible violations of the budget-only rule, named after its author, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).