Congressional Democrats are confident that reports of a largely damaging ruling by the Senate parliamentarian with respect to passing health care reform were either overplayed by the press or misrepresented by Republicans.
On Thursday, news broke that the Senate parliamentarian told Republicans that the House of Representatives would have to pass the Senate health care bill -- and the president would have to sign it into law -- before either chamber could pass fixes through reconciliation.
The story, sourced solely to Republican aides, seemed to be a significant setback for Democrats, who want to assure skeptical House members that they can and will pass fixes to the Senate bill.
Now it seems that the parliamentarian's words were not so assertive. On Friday morning Congressional Quarterly reported that the Senate parliamentarian "later reportedly clarified his position to Senate aides, saying that the reconciliation bill could be written in a way that would not require Obama to sign the Senate bill into law before the reconciliation bill is voted on."
A Democratic aide, meanwhile, told the Huffington Post that it was their office's understanding that "the GOP misinterpreted his opinion on health care reform" -- though the aide would not elaborate.
eached at his Maryland home by HuffPost on Friday, Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin declined to comment.
In all likelihood, Frumin issued an advisory opinion rather than a definitive ruling about the sequence in which reconciliation can be used. For example, the option does exist that Vice President Biden, as president of the Senate, could rule that a reconciliation fix can pass through Congress without the health care bill it is designed to change being signed into law. The more common solution, as reiterated on Friday by a Democratic Hill aide, is that the party would attach a reconciliation fix bill to the base health care legislation on the condition that the latter is signed right before the former.
As pointed out by David Waldman of DailyKos, this "two-bill" strategy seems to be permissible under the rules of the Senate. Waldman points to the following August 2005 report from the Congressional Research Service, which concludes that:
Congress and the President could use reconciliation procedures to quickly make any adjustments in existing law or pending legislation that were required to achieve budget policies as they changed between the adoption of the spring and fall budget resolutions.
Asked about reports that Senate Republicans had misinterpreted the parliamentarian's comments, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office told the Huffington Post that they were "very precise about what he said."
"I think some reporters misinterpreted," said spokesperson Don Stewart.