Clearing the first Senate hurdle

CLEARING THE FIRST SENATE HURDLE…. The Senate is poised to begin debate on the health care reconciliation package, but before the chamber could get started, there was a key procedural hurdle that had to be cleared. A setback would have made completing the rest of the process significantly more difficult.

Republicans had a plan: argue to the Senate parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, that the provisions of the budget fix related to the excise tax would affect Social Security revenues. It’s a long story, but the bottom line of the GOP argument was that the financing mechanism shouldn’t be considered under reconciliation, but rather, should be subject to yet another Republican filibuster.

Most objective observers agreed that the argument seemed far-fetched, at best. But a meeting was scheduled between Frumin and leadership aides from both parties. The parliamentarian was expected to hear the arguments and then announce his findings. Dems hoped for a quick resolution.

That didn’t happen. Six hours later, Democrats started to get nervous with Frumin’s silence. Was he actually taking the Republican argument seriously?

Fortunately, by early evening, the parliamentarian ended the suspense and rejected the GOP challenge.

Frumin heard arguments from Democratic and GOP Senate staff, and he ultimately ruled in favor of the Democrats. The Republicans argued that a provision dealing with the excise tax on “Cadillac” insurance plans impacted Social Security. The Budget Act does not permit reconciliation legislation to affect Social Security.

However, Senate Republicans remain confident that Frumin will rule in their favor on at least one of the many challenges they plan to raise.

“One down, many more to go,” a GOP aide said Monday evening.

Carrie Budoff Brown noted that the decision “makes the road for Democratic passage of the bill much smoother.”

Indeed. I don’t doubt that Republicans have “many more” delaying/obstructionist tactics to go — they really are fighting to protect parts of the reform package they claim to hate — but in this case, the first procedural hurdle was also the most threatening.

The Senate is scheduled to convene around 2 p.m. (ET), and will get the final phase of the process started.