The Senate moved forward yesterday on debate of H.R. 3590, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the first-time homebuyers credit in the case of members of the Armed Forces and certain other Federal employees, and for other purposes.
You read that right.
The bill being used as the shell for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) first attempt at a government takeover of health care is in the form of H.R. 3590, an unrelated tax bill. The House-passed health care bill (H.R. 3962) is still sitting undisturbed on the Senate Calendar should Reid need it for something — like a vehicle to move a last-minute health care “budget reconciliation” bill through the Senate.
I spoke yesterday with Elizabeth Letchworth who was four times elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority/Minority. She worked on the floor of the Senate during 19 of the 23 times reconciliation has been used to pass Senate legislation. Letchworth is presently a senior legislative advisor at Covington & Burling and the owner-founder of GradeGov.com.
“Reid didn’t go to the House bill,” Letchworth told HUMAN EVENTS. “He’s going to save the House bill for Plan B when he needs to go to Plan B. The House-passed health bill is sitting on the calendar.”
“When we had the vote on the motion to proceed the Saturday before Thanksgiving he moved to proceed to the bill that would be the vehicle for the Senate health care bill, but the vehicle he chose was not the House health care bill,” Letchworth continued. “The motion passed with 60 votes, but what he chose as the vehicle is a tax credit for military first time homebuyers. It’s really curious that he didn’t choose the House bill.”
Yeah, I’d say that raises a red flag. Passage of Harrycare through the normal Senate process requires 60 votes to end debate on everything from amendments to final passage.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the self-described socialist, just one short week ago vowed to vote against ending debate on any Senate health care bill that did not include the government takeover of health care.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is standing steadfast in his commitment to vote against ending debate on any Senate bill that does include the so-called “public option.”
And therein lays the fundamental conflict that could kill the bill’s journey through the normal process. The promised battle of the two filibusters that would kill the bill either way it’s written. But there are other bill killers in the Senate version including government funding of abortion, coverage for illegal aliens on the taxpayer dime and the half-trillion dollars in cuts to Medicare to name but a few that cannot meet the 60-vote threshold for cloture to end debate.
Should Reid’s first attempt to pass Harrycare through the normal process fail, he has another vehicle already primed and ready to go: the House-passed health care bill. By simple majority, the Senate Finance Committee would merely need to kick a reconciliation bill out to the Senate Budget Committee. And we’re off to the reconciliation races.
In the meantime, there are seven appropriations bills that have not yet passed the House. There will be a Continuing Resolution (CR) with these seven all rolled into one to provide continued funding. The drop-dead date on the passage of the CR is December 18th. Otherwise funding runs out.
Doc Fix must pass before January 1, 2010 or doctors will see an immediate 21% reduction in Medicare fees. The debt limit extension, FAA operations extension, second stimulus/unemployment fix (the first “unemployment fix” isn’t going to write the checks they thought the bill would write, so the House will very likely to do it again as a second stimulus) are all must pass legislation this year.
“All of this stuff is piling up in the Senate and they can’t just press pause without [unanimous] consent,” Letchworth said. “Otherwise once you move to proceed to, pick one, debt limit, the CR or the new unemployment — whatever they move to proceed to would move [health care] back to the beginning.”
Another 60-vote threshold would have to be met for the current health care vehicle to proceed.
“When the President makes his statement [tonight] on troops for Afghanistan, they’ll need a supplemental,” Letchworth continued. “How many weeks can they sit around watching the Senate scream at each other on health care before they say they’ve got to do the bill?”
“Boxer’s already said she’s going to Copenhagen [for the UN “climate change” conference December 7-18],” Letchworth added.
Is any of this by design?
If Reid can flush the current Harrycare bill quickly using the Sanders/Lieberman filibuster standoff as the excuse (or one of the other myriad of contentious issues), he can move to the “must pass” legislation for the year. While moving on to these other matters, Senate Finance can kick a reconciliation bill to the Budget Committee.
There is no motion to proceed on a budget reconciliation bill. It automatically moves to the Senate floor, debate is limited to 20 hours and a simple majority passes the bill. There are parliamentary rulings on points of order to be considered.
For more on the 60-vote requirement to waive parliamentary rulings on reconciliation, see our previous report on the Senate parliamentarian on HUMAN EVENTS here.
The Health Care Shell Game
On the current shell bill being debated in the Senate, H.R. 3590, Reid laid down his amendment in the nature of a substitute which guts the bill and substitutes Harrycare. There are currently two amendments to his amendment available that will not be considered until Tuesday afternoon at the earliest. One is from Sen. Barbara Milkulski (D-Md.) regarding preventative services for women.
The other is from Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) in the form of a motion to recommit the bill to remove the Medicare cuts.
Today would be the first day of playing nice. The Republicans gave unanimous consent to the floor schedule for today as a means to get their amendment considered. The Republican amendment would force Democrats to choose between cutting Medicare by a half-trillion dollars and killing the cuts causing the cost of the bill to go up by another half-trillion dollars. I suppose that’s one way to show folks that there is no fixing this bill.
In my view, the Democrats’ plan all along has been to ram the bill through on reconciliation, which is the only way Democrats have the votes for final passage. Reid is setting up the process by leaving the House-passed health care bill on the calendar and using the military tax break as a shell bill.
The clock is ticking.