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Firing or Ignoring the Parliamentarian – It’s Called Leadership

Greg Sargent is reporting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now expressing openness to possibly including the public option in a reconciliation measure. But, apparently, unnamed Senate aides think there might be procedural problems:

It’s far from decided whether reconciliation will ultimately be used to pass reform. What’s more, senior Senate aides still think there’s a procedural obstacle in their path: They insist that in order for them to pass a fix to their bill via reconciliation, the House must pass it first — something House leaders oppose.

In addition, Senate leadership aides say they’re uncertain whether the Senate parliamentarian will sign off on the possibility of passing the public option via reconciliation in the first place. And, finally, aides want assurances from the White House that it will use its clout to help round up Senate support for the public option, should it come to a vote.

It is amazing how procedural hurdles manage to keep coming out of nowhere to stop the public option and protect the private insurance industry.

If Harry Reid is really worried that the current Senate parliamentarian will advise the presiding officer of the Senate that the public option runs afoul of the Byrd rule, which I highly doubt, Reid will have two options:

1) Fire the Parliamentarian

The Senate parliamentarian serves at the pleasure of the Senate majority leader–in this case, Harry Reid. Reid can just fire the guy and hire someone who will conclude that a public option–which will save the federal government $25-$110 billion–in fact affects the budget. That should not be hard. (Hint: I might be willing to accept a new position if offered better pay and benefits.) This is how Republicans played hardball. When former parliamentarian Bob Dove ruled in a way that then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott did not like, he simply replaced him.

2) Ignore the Parliamentarian

The Parliamentarian technically serves only an advisory role in reconciliation. Even if the parliamentarian thinks that the public option fails to meet the requirements of the Byrd rule, that does not matter. Technically, the ultimate decision is up to the presiding officer in the Senate, which would be Joe Biden. If Biden ignores the parliamentarian, and rules against a point of order to remove the public option, it would take 60 votes to take the public option out of the bill.

There is nothing technically stopping Reid from passing the public option through reconciliation if he can find 50 votes. If Reid is willing to play hardball like previous Senate majority leaders, he can overcome these hurdles. If the public option dies dur to “procedure” reasons, and not because of a lack of votes, you will know Reid did not really want to go out for the public option. He decided that he would rather make excuses than protect Americans from the private insurance companies.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at