On January 25, David Waldman and I had a little debate about the process of health reform moving forward. By then it was pretty clear that the House was going to have to pass the Senate bill, as is, and both the House and the Senate would have to agree on a separate package of targeted changes to the Senate bill to fix parts of it that House Democrats found objectionable. This would be done through a process called budget reconciliation, which would allow the Senate to pass it by majority vote, rather than the 60-vote threshold the Republicans are forcing on nearly everything. The only question then was who was going to move first: the House with the Senate bill or the Senate with the reconciliation package.
David contended that it was perfectly fine for Congress to pass a reconciliation "fix" to a the Senate bill before the Senate bill actually becomes law. It struck me as a rather bizarre argument, and I countered that the House must pass the Senate bill first, and that Congress can't amend parts of the federal code that do not yet exist. David said it could, so long as the President signed the Senate bill first and the reconciliation measure second, making them law in that order. Needless to say, David did not change my mind. Besides the logical incongruity of the process David described, I was also concerned about its real world implications - what if this were possible and a future Congress did this, and a future President decided to sign the 'fix' measure and veto the underlying bill. It would set up a legal limbo.
Anyway, back then, we parted on amicable terms, and we agreed to disagree. At least that was my impression.
Fastforward to recent news. It has now been agreed that the House will, in fact, move first and pass the Senate bill, sending it to the President. Immediately afterwards, the House will begin consideration of the reconciliation measure; once passed, sending it to the Senate for final passage. That news came from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on February 28.
Fast forward, once again, to today. Today, news broke that the Senate parliamentarian has advised that current reconciliation instructions require that the reconciliation bill amend existing law - that is, to the extent it amends new law in the Senate bill, the Senate bill must be law first. David Waldman first poo-pooed the report because it came from GOP Senate aids who said that the parliamentarian had advised them so verbally. Of course, he never amended his post after Democratic aides and Budget Committee Chair Sen. Kent Conrad confirmed the report, or even acknowledged the confirmation.
In his post, he pointed out that reconciliation law and Congressional Research Service point to the idea that reconciliation can indeed be applied to bills or pending legislation (presumably something that isn't law yet). What he left out was the fact that even according to that, the House cannot pass a reconciliation bill amending the Senate bill - because the Senate bill has not yet been passed in the House! How does a body change a bill with a separate bill (not through the amendment process) without passing the underlying bill first? The House is, of course, Constitutionally mandated to originate revenue related bills, which the reconciliation fix will be.
But I digress. When the news of the opinion of the Senate parliamentarian broke, I openly questioned (as I do at this very moment) Waldman's "expert" status, saying also that I found it curious that as someone proud of covering Congress, he did not seem to actually read the current reconciliation instructions. I went after David's interpretation of former Parliamentarian Bob Dove's comments. The comment is below:
Dove says the Dems' planned use of reconciliation is highly unusual. "I've never seen a two-bill strategy" where reconciliation is used to fix another piece of legislation, he says. "It's permissible, I've just never seen it."It's important to investigate this part - since David seems to think that it means that Mr. Dove was saying that reconciliation bill could pass before the the underlying Senate bill. Obviously, in my judgment, that's a little bit of a logical leap. The more straightforward explanation is that the former parliamentarian is intrigued at the process, and that he is referring to the idea of a the immediacy with which the "fix" will follow through after the Senate bill. But if you aren't clear on that and the idea that the House can't fix something the House hasn't passed, look at the date of the article in which Mr. Dove's comments appear. March 3, 2010. Which is after February 28, when it had already been decided that the House would go first, as I noted above. I don't think it makes any logical sense for the former parliamentarian to be talking about a hypothetical that has already been decided against for current legislation.
This is when I found out that David Waldman hates me. He got angry, calling me a "turbo-douche" and accusing me of engaging in a "pissing match," simply because I said, and I turned out to be correct about, according to the opinion of the current Senate parliamentarian, the common sense idea that you can't change a bill outside of the normal amendment process without passing the bill first.
I have to admit, it was mildly amusing. David Waldman is a front-page blogger at Daily Kos, and runs the associated Congress Matters. I am a tiny little blogfish. But he is either so insecure in his position or so thin-skinned that he had to name-call me. Kind of funny, if you think about it.
Please note that in the external links to Daily Kos, comments (and diaries) from 'deaniac83' are authored by me.