The House must pass the Senate health care bill into law before fixes can be made to it through reconciliation, the Senate Parliamentarian told Republican leaders.
"The Senate Parliamentarian's office has informed Senate Republicans that reconciliation instructions require the measure to make changes in law," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConell (R-Ky.), confirming a report in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.
Congress could then amend the law using the majority-vote reconciliation procedure. But at that point, a version of health care reform would be signed into law, lessening the pressure to move the package of fixes through.
The Senate, however, must convince the House that if it passes the Senate version, there will be at least 50 senators willing to support the reconciliation fix. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, quipped last week that the House would require a "blood oath" from the upper chamber.
Suspicion of the Senate and White House is high in the House because it has long been known that the president prefers the Senate health care bill and has been urging the House to simply pass it without fixes. The White House spent little time negotiating with the House over its bill, whereas the administration was intimately involved in the crafting of the Senate bill.
Regardless of what the parliamentarian rules, Vice President Joe Biden could overrule him.
A decision on the way forward is expected in the next few days.
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said earlier he thought that reconciliation could not be used to amend a bill that has yet to become law.
You can't reconcile a bill that has not passed. That's not a law. We all in fourth grade saw the [short film], how a bill is made. Well the bill isn't made until the president signs the bill right. That is what you reconcile, something the president has signed and turned into a law. This concept that they are going to hold the big bill, the colossal bill, the asteroid heading towards earth bill, at the desk while they wait for the senate to finish the buy-in bill by passing the reconciliation bill doesn't work.
So any House member who is going to vote for the big bill on the belief that this trailer bill, the reconciliation bill will be passed by the Senate before the big bill gets signed by the president is being fed a lie because that's not the way it is going to work. We have talked this over with the parliamentarian, the language is unequivocally clear, it says reconciliation must change a law. And I'm pretty confident that that will be the view on the Senate floor.
Sam Stein contributed reporting