The never-ending odyssey of health care legislation isn’t over.
Democrats, showing unusual spunk, forced Republicans to go deep into the night to vote on their amendments, all of which failed with the Democratic caucus holding together. This was basically the “make them filibuster” moment that, we are often told, would captivate the nation and force everyone to recognize who is holding back progress for the American people. Weren’t you captivated, last night, at 2:45am?
Remember that Tom Harkin told me that the goal was to finish the reconciliation bill cleanly and send it to the President, without amendments that would push the bill back to the House.
Well, regardless of what happens on future amendments (and we’re not yet done voting), the bill will return to the House, because the Senate parliamentarian found a couple issues.
Senate Republicans succeeded early Thursday morning in finding two flaws in the House-passed health care reconciliation package. Neither is of any substance, but the Senate parliamentarian informed Democratic leaders that both are in violation of the Byrd Rule.
One is related to Pell Grants and the other makes small technical corrections. Why they’re in violation of the Byrd Rule doesn’t matter; the upshot is that Republicans will succeed in at least slightly altering the legislation, which means that the House is once again required to vote on it. With no substantial changes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should have little problem assembling the same coalition of 220 Democrats who passed the measure Sunday night. That’s already four more than the minimum 216 required for passage.
A senior leadership aide tells FDL News that the provisions are indeed minor and technical in nature. The Pell grant issue doesn’t kick in until 2013 and will be addressed in future legislation, for example.
The key here is that Byrd rule violations have been found before the end of the voting process. There is now no excuse to hold back perfecting amendments that are on budget that would garner majority support in the House. The bill will return to the House anyway.
Grim reports that the House Majority Whip has the votes, for example, for a public option, which would even in weakened form save $25 billion and thusly have a substantial budgetary impact:
Democratic leadership no longer has to worry that additional amendments would send it back to the House, since it must return to the lower chamber regardless. The Senate is now free to put to the test that much-debated question of whether 50 votes exist for a public option. Democrats could also elect to expand Medicare or Medicaid, now that they only need 50 votes in the Senate and the approval of the House [...]
The Huffington Post interviewed House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Wednesday evening and asked if he thought he could have gotten the public option back through a second time, when the House voted on Sunday, even without those members who had left. “Yes, sir,” he said emphatically. Clyburn added that the problem for the public option has never been in the House. The problem has been in the Senate. And now the upper chamber has a chance to vote on it.
Just keep this in mind when the Senate reconvenes, around 9:45am. There is no reason not to add popular, budget-related stuff right now. Anyone saying otherwise is not telling you the truth.
UPDATE: Voting has started again in the Senate, with a final vote expected by about 2pm ET. There’s no indication that the amendments will be anything but Republican poison pills; no Democrat has proposed a perfecting amendment.