With the parliamentarian, details matter

WITH THE PARLIAMENTARIAN, DETAILS MATTER…. Yesterday afternoon, Senate Republicans said they’d received guidance from the Senate parliamentarian on health care and reconciliation — before Dems can fix a law, it has to be law. Soon after, Senate Dems, specifically Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), were saying that they’d heard the same thing.

This wouldn’t necessarily spell doom for reform; it would simply require the House to count on the Senate to do what it says it wants to do — pass the budget fix through reconciliation.

But what, exactly, the parliamentarian said is apparently still open to some question.

[A]ccording to reporting by POLITICO’s David Rogers, the accounts aren’t accurate and misconstrue what the Senate parliamentarians have said. That is that reconciliation must amend law but this could be done without the Senate bill being enacted first. “It is wholly possible to create law and qualify law before the law is on the books,” said one person familiar with situation… [I]n essence, don’t take the reported parliamentarian’s declaration to the bank.

Part of the problem, it seems, is that the parliamentarian’s judgment had been expressed verbally, and not in writing. It’s since been subjected to some spin and interpretation. National Journal reported today, “A Republican claim said to be based on advice from the Senate parliamentarian does not throw Democrats off plans for how to pass a healthcare overhaul, according to aides and sources.”

It’s probably a good time to remind folks, including myself, that we’re going to see a fair amount of this in the immediate future — reports on votes and procedures from credible reporters at real outlets may be more ambiguous than they seem at first blush.

As Jonathan Cohn noted, “[I]f you’re not used to that kind of uncertainty already, you should get used to it fast. That’s what the next few days and, maybe, weeks are going to be like.”