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Former Parliamentarian: Reconciliation Is Legitimate

March 1, 2010 - by Eric Naing

The Republicans have opened fire on using the budget reconciliation process calling it “unprecedented” and the “nuclear option.” But a former Congressional official who knows reconciliation well says it’s neither.

Democrats want to use the budget reconciliation process to approve some changes to the Senate health care bill (H.R.3590) – thus avoiding the 60-vote threshold mandated by a GOP filibuster threat. As Ezra Klein notes, Republicans have relied on the process more than Democrats in recent years:

Reconciliation has, in general, been a Republican endeavor. Political scientist Joshua Tucker looked at the 19 times reconciliation was used between 1981 and 2005, and found that 14 of them were Republican initiatives. If you extend that analysis out to 2008, then 16 of 21 reconciliation bills were Republican.

Today on MSNBC, former Senate parliamentarian Robert Dove backed up Klein’s contention that reconciliation is neither illegitimate nor unprecedented:

Reconciliation has been used a lot and I would never use the term illegitimate with regard to reconciliation… It has been used starting in 1980 for very large, major bills and it is a way, of course, of getting around the problem of the Senate filibuster.

The parliamentarian is important because it will be up to him to decide whether a particular idea fits the criteria of the reconciliation process – essentially anything that affects the budget.

In the same interview, Dove had more bad news for the Republicans. Though the parliamentarian decides what falls under reconciliation, the final decision is up to the president of the Senate, aka Vice President Joe Biden:

Ultimately it’s the Vice President of the United States… It is the decision of the Vice President whether or not to play a role here… And I have seen Vice Presidents play that role in other very important situations… The parliamentarian only can advise, it is the vice president who rules.

So theoretically, Biden could overrule current parliamentarian Alan Frumin and allow reconciliation to be used on a certain provision over Frumin’s advice. But Dove also cautions that a vice president overruling the parliamentarian would be legitimately unprecedented:

I will say that not since Hubert Humphrey have I seen a Vice President try to play that kind of role in the Senate.

Watch Dove’s interview below:

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