As Democrats try to salvage health care reform, there is one man who above all others will help determine its fate, and he is not Barack Obama or Harry Reid or even a member of Congress. In fact, odds are you've never heard of Alan Frumin, the Senate parliamentarian. But when it comes to the complex budgetary procedure known as reconciliation, the filibuster-proof process which Democrats hope to use to make certain fixes to the Senate bill, Frumin is "the defense counsel, he's the prosecution, he's the judge, he's the jury and he's the hangman," says Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the top Republican on the Budget Committee.Or, in other words, "germane to the resolution," a staple of Robert's Rules of Order and classic parliamentary procedure. (The same general principle forbids amendments that merely insert "not" into bills or resolutions as a way of negating their impacts, except in the case of an obvious typo.)
It will be up to Frumin to decide what parts of the previously passed Senate health care bill Senate Democrats can and cannot amend with a simple majority of 51 votes. House Democrats, who are being asked to pass a Senate bill with which they have some real disagreements, are counting on their Senate colleagues to make a certain number of tweaks after the fact, but that is no easy task.
The problem in using reconciliation is twofold: 1) it's open to amendments and many Republicans Senators, including Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, say they plan on filing hundreds of amendments, potentially gumming up the Senate for months; and 2) under a provision known as the Byrd rule — named after Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia — every provision passed through reconciliation must be deemed relevant to the underlying budget by the parliamentarian.
Read the whole thing to learn about the fascinating intricacies of the Senate's parliamentary procedure--and what would make a parliamentarian say, "The rules are perfect and if they're all changed, the rules are still all perfect."