By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 1/29/2010 11:27:49 AM ET 2010-01-29T16:27:49

Claim: The Senate parliamentarian could decide the fate of the Democrats' health insurance bill.

Following Democrats' loss of their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate due to last week's Massachusetts special election, Democrats are looking for ways to pass their health insurance legislation, without having to round up 60 votes in the Senate. Some Democrats are urging the Senate to resort to its reconciliation process, which is used for revenue and tax-related measures, to enact a series of "fixes" to the bill which the Senate passed before Christmas. Some House Democrats want the Senate to go further and use the fast-track reconciliation process to enact a public insurance program. "The public option would clearly qualify as budget-related under reconciliation, and with the majority support it has garnered in the Senate, it should be included in any health care reform legislation that moves under reconciliation," said Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

Fact or fiction?
Fact. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said this week reconciliation  is "an option we should keep on the table." But as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer noted, "There are only a narrow band of things that you can accomplish with reconciliation." Congress "could not accomplish all of the reforms in the health care bill" using reconciliation. Under the Byrd Rule, named after Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., a senator can raise an objection (called "a point of order") to any extraneous matter in a reconciliation bill. If the presiding officer upholds that point of order, 60 votes are required to overturn that decision. The presiding officer would look to Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin to decide what provisions are extraneous. Byrd wanted to prevent reconciliation from being used to pass provisions that have nothing to do with spending programs, revenues, or public debt.

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