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Snag Sends Health Bill Back to House

Updated: 3:43 a.m.

The House will have to take up health care legislation again — likely within the next day or two — after the bill hit a speed bump early Thursday morning in the Senate.

Parliamentarian Alan Frumin informed Senate leaders that the bill violated budget rules, prompting Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring the Senate’s marathon vote-a-rama to an abrupt end at 2:45 a.m. Thursday. The Senate is scheduled to resume work on the bill at 9:45 a.m., with final votes on the reconciliation bill expected by 2 p.m.

Democrats had hoped the Senate would clear the bill without changes so it could go directly to President Barack Obama for his signature. But now the bill will have to go back to the House, which likely will accept the changes and send the bill to the president.

According to Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, Republicans successfully identified relatively minor provisions that violated the “Byrd rule,” including a section dealing with Pell Grants.

Because the Byrd rule — named after Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) — bars extraneous provisions from being included in a reconciliation bill, Democrats would need 60 votes to waive a point of order, a threshold Reid cannot meet.

Democrats remained confident they would pass the reconciliation bill — a companion bill to the health care measure Obama signed into law earlier this week.

“The Parliamentarian struck two minor provisions tonight from the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, but this bill’s passage in the Senate is still a big win for the American people,” said Kate Cyrul, an aide with Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

“These changes do not impact the reforms to the student loan programs and the important investments in education. We are confident the House will quickly pass the bill with these minor changes,” Cyrul said.

Indeed, a GOP aide acknowledged the changes are largely inconsequential. “The policy doesn’t matter,” the aide said, explaining that Republicans caught what amount to drafting errors in the bill earlier in the week.

Nevertheless, the Republican aide said the GOP sees the ruling as a win, noting that Democrats were forced into dozens of difficult votes on a host of political issues, including tax cuts, Medicare spending, federal funding for Viagra prescriptions for convicts and other amendments.

In fact, the aide indicated that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had been confident Frumin would rule in his favor throughout the vote-a-rama and kept the points of order in his back pocket until late in the evening to ensure Democrats made tough political votes.

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