The Senate parliamentarian now says no. But two years ago she had a different answer.
Some of the Senate’s rules governing what legislation can be passed with a simple majority, rather than 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, are vague and confusing. So it was widely expected that the Senate parliamentarian would say that some provisions in the GOP bill to partially repeal and replace Obamacare cannot be repealed with a simple majority vote under budget reconciliation rules.
But it was surprising to read Friday evening in a document released by Senator Bernie Sanders, the ranking Democrat on the budget committee, that the Senate parliamentarian believes that the Better Care Reconciliation Act’s (BCRA) provision defunding Planned Parenthood runs afoul of what is known as the Byrd Rule. The reason this opinion on Planned Parenthood was so surprising because in 2015 the same parliamentarian permitted an identical provision in a budget reconciliation bill that passed the Senate and was vetoed by President Obama.
The document released by Bernie Sanders Friday night does not explain why the parliamentarian changed her opinion on defunding Planned Parenthood. Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, cautioned in an email that this was only preliminary guidance and the bill could be revised. “[W]e use this guidance to inform subsequent drafts. This isn’t a final ruling,” Stewart wrote. “Remember in 2015, the original guidance said we couldn’t repeal the individual and employer mandates. We updated the language and it passed the Byrd test. And we passed it.”
The Senate has historically deferred the parliamentarian’s opinions, but Senate rules allow the vice president to make the final decision. There has been very little interest within the Senate GOP caucus in upholding a ruling from Vice President Mike Pence contrary to that of the Senate parliamentarian. But arbitrary rulings by the parliamentarian could change that.
source–john mccormack, weekly std, james mcnellis, better care reconciliation act, bcra, don stewart