Senate Parliamentarian Backs Republicans on Health Law Question

Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., and his panel are arbiters of the final scores over legislation, but the parliamentarian, which ruled in favor of the GOP on a key question about health care legislation, determines questions of jurisdiction. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Republicans have won an argument before the parliamentarian that will allow a House-passed health care reconciliation bill to be taken up and amended in the Senate next week without any obstacle, CQ Roll Call has learned.

After hearing arguments weeks ago from Democratic and Republican aides, Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough issued her opinion that the House bill (HR 1628) complies with jurisdictional requirements within Senate reconciliation instructions.

The development is significant because it means the hotly debated health care repeal written by the House can move more smoothly through the Senate without procedural problems. There still may be other challenges under the Senate's Byrd rule, which bars extraneous matter, once the bill is under debate.

If the House bill had not met the requirements, the measure might not have been considered a reconciliation bill in the Senate, jeopardizing Republican plans to amend it with a Senate substitute.

Republicans are counting on using reconciliation to try to pass their health care legislation, since it allows the bill to advance with a simple majority, meaning Democrats alone cannot block the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plans to take up the House-passed bill next week and amend it with a substitute Senate version. If the House-passed bill did not meet the requirements of a reconciliation bill, it might take 60 votes to move to the bill. Democrats would almost certainly block consideration.

Senate aides confirmed to CQ Roll Call on Wednesday that the parliamentarian found that the repeal of cost-sharing reduction subsidies in the House bill fell under the jurisdiction of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. That in effect provided the committee with the deficit savings required under the Senate reconciliation instructions in the fiscal 2017 budget resolution (S Con Res 3).

The cost-sharing subsidies are part of the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).

Democrats argued that the cost sharing reductions fell under the Senate Finance Committee's jurisdiction.

In a separate meeting with the parliamentarian, Republicans argued they were under the jurisdiction of the HELP Committee. The parliamentarian agreed with the Republicans.

Under budget law, the Budget committees are the official scorekeepers, even though they usually rely on the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the costs of legislation. As a result, Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., has the final say over scores of legislation.

However, whether a provision within a bill falls under the jurisdiction of one committee or another is based on committee jurisdiction rules. When there is disagreement, Senate aides turn to the parliamentarian.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.