March 10, 2010
Reconciliation and the Senate BillBy Marilyn M. Barnewall
The Democrat-dominated Senate apparently does not have the 60-vote margin required to pass a health care bill that the public does not want. We've been accused of not wanting it because we do not understand it (because we're stupid), but put that aside for a moment.
When Republicans held a Senate majority, they used a voting method called "reconciliation." It requires a simple majority of 51 rather than the usual 60. Perhaps in memory of what they think was GOP misbehavior, the Democrats now want to misbehave themselves by using the reconciliation process to get their party's health care package passed.
The best parliamentary expert in the Democratic Party is Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV). Rules written by Byrd say that during the reconciliation process, a senator may challenge a provision of a bill. If the parliamentarian rules in favor of the challenge, then that provision is removed from the measure, and the bill continues through the reconciliation process. The parliamentarian may, of course, rule in opposition to the challenge, and the bill will still continue through the reconciliation process.
Remember: The Democrats don't have 60 votes.
Chicago-style politics dominate Capitol Hill. Parliamentarianism is, as a result, not terribly high on anyone's priority list. It's been cast aside with the Constitution and the rule of law. However, there are rules that do apply to reconciliation, and failing to follow them can open a large can of worms.
Something may have been overlooked -- intentionally or otherwise. It's called "Social Security."
Senator Byrd helped write budgetary rules for the Senate. Under the Byrd rules, legislation is subject to a reconciliation point of order challenge because it is "extraneous" if:
There are 57 million people who receive Social Security benefits. Medicare is a Social Security benefit. The only way health care legislation can legitimately pass through reconciliation (sounds a bit like a kidney stone) is to remove any provision that changes Social Security benefits. If the Senate follows its own rules and excludes Social Security from reconciliation, then it must remove $500 billion in Medicare benefits -- and if the $500 billion is removed, then the health care bill is dead on arrival (DOA).
One simple question: If this little old lady in Colorado understands this, then why don't the little old Republicans in the Senate or at Republican National Headquarters understand the Byrd rule?
As I read Byrd's rule, if a bill "includes changes in Social Security" -- and Medicare is a Social Security benefit -- then the bill can be challenged. Thus, if the Democrats push this legislation in violation of Senate rules and use reconciliation to gain passage via a simple majority of 51 votes, then all 57 million people who are elderly and/or disabled and receive Social Security benefits will know that Democrats are willing to "push them under a bus" to socialize medicine in America.
The health care bill calls for $500 billion in Medicare cuts over ten years, and because of the cuts, this bill "changes Social Security." The $500-billion cuts in Medicare were written into the health care bill purportedly so that 30 to 45 million people who currently have no health care insurance coverage will have it. Democrats are ready to pay for the health care bill by placing a vile burden on the backs of the elderly and disabled.
This is an issue with which the opposition can pound Democrats and liberals into the ground -- look at the price for elderly and disabled Social Security recipients! Considering the arrogance of those who hold political office today, it is not a terrible stretch of the imagination.
Have Republicans forgotten Senator Byrd's comments about reconciliation? As late as April 29, 2009, Byrd said,
But Democrats are not carefully crafting health care legislation to pass it under reconciliation. The same Nancy Pelosi special is on the menu -- the same old meatloaf, served cold. Has Senator Byrd forgotten his own rules? In a letter last Thursday to the editor of the Charleston Daily Mail, it appears so. In it, Byrd gives a qualified thumbs-up to use reconciliation to pass a health care package of fixes to the already approved Senate bill. The "best Democrat Parliamentarian ever" title bites the dust.
Byrd's letter removes what Republicans consider the key talking point: Even Byrd opposes using reconciliation to pass health care. Republicans are using the wrong "key talking point." They should be talking about Democrats violating Senate rules of reconciliation designed to prevent changes in Social Security benefits. They should be talking about the Democrat Party's willingness to force the disabled and the elderly to pay the price of their arrogance and greed. If they did, Senator Byrd's own Social Security extraneous provision to effectively challenge reconciliation would turn on the Democrats and bite them in the butt.
The meaning of all but one listed extraneous provision to challenge legislation submitted for passage under reconciliation can be argued. Byrd's rules say that a point of order challenge can be made when "changes in Social Security" are involved. That is neither vague nor arguable. Only one question needs to be asked: Is Medicare a Social Security benefit?
Read the following form. The Social Security Administration seems sure that Medicare is a Social Security benefit. (The following form was approved by the Office of Management and Budget and it is copied from the SSA's URL at https://secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/iRRet/rib).
So, one extraneous provision rule is so specific as to be non-debatable. Debate 101 suggests that the greatest weakness is an excellent point of attack. Why are the Republicans not using the strongest point available to prevent the reconciliation process?
None of the other extraneous provisions are defined quite as specifically as "Thou shall not touch Social Security with reconciliation." This argument involves 57 million Americans whose anger will be heard at the ballot box over lost Medicare benefits.
No headlines from a compromised mainstream media will be needed to inform Republican and Democrat voters. Elderly and disabled people talk. They use e-mail. All of their children will know which senators are willing to violate the rules. Those children are the ones whose family budgets will now have to pay for Mom's and Pop's lost Medicare benefits. They won't be happy. No one will be -- including former members of the Senate who lose next November for not following their own rules.
Another hundred million voters will know who needs to be voted out of office after 57 million seniors tell their children and grandchildren about it. No, the media won't have to cover this story of senior and disabled abuse. Everyone will know.
Whatever health care bill the Senate passes will have the force of law behind it after passing the House and gaining a presidential signature. American courts will not interfere with how the Senate interprets its own rules. When it comes to filing lawsuits against government, sovereignty gets respect. Only when it applies to world government and the need for an international regulating body for the financial markets does sovereignty become meaningless.
I have yet to figure out how anyone thinks it is good to take something away from 250 million (plus) people so it can be given to the 30 million they say don't have it. Do people have to attend law school and become politicians to understand convoluted mathematics?