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Lawmakers Debate What Parliamentarian Said

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A Senate staffer who has been little known outside of Washington is suddenly playing a key role in the health bill process.

Republicans and Democrats have been arguing through comments to the media about whether Alan Frumin, the Senate parliamentarian, has decided what rules should apply if the Democrats use the budget reconciliation process to try to get a health bill through the Senate, and, if so, what exactly Frumin has decided.

Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, is reporting that Don Stewart, an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says the Senate must pass some kind of health bill before Congress can use the reconciliation process to change the bill.

The Huffington Post is quoting an unnamed “Democratic aide” who said that Frumin was misinterpreted,” and other reports indicating that reconciliation could be used without President Obama first having to sign a Senate health bill into law.

Frumin, who could not immediately be reached for comment, has a bachelor’s degree from Colgate University and a law degree from Georgetown University, according to The Alamanac of the Unelected 2008: Staff of the U.S. Congress. He has spent his career focusing on congressional parliamentary procedure. He was the Senate parliamentarian from 1987 to 1995, then began a second stint as Senate parliamentarian in 2001.

Before the Democrats can pass a health bill in the Senate using the reconciliation process, the Byrd rule, named after Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., will require them to convince Frumin that every provision in the bill is relevant to the federal budget.

The House Rules Committee told House Democrats Thursday that any reconciliation bill “will not be about health care reform, health insurance reform, in its totality,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday after a Democratic Caucus meeting, according to a transcript of her remarks. “It will be only about the changes that will be made to the Senate bill…. Reconciliation is a very narrow discipline.”

Democrats are thinking about using the budget reconciliation process because Senate rules permit budget reconciliation measures to pass with just 51 votes. Normally, supporters of a measure must round up at least 60 votes in the Senate to avert the threat of a filibuster.

The Democrats lost their theoretical ability to round up 60 votes with relative ease when Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., took a seat in the Senate. Brown has voted with the Democratic majority on some issues, but, even before Brown office, Democrats were having trouble getting 60 votes in the Senate for a health bill that also could get through the House.

If Democrats can find a way to pass a health bill in the Senate with just 51 votes, they might have an easier time passing a bill there than in the House, according to some insurance industry lobbyists.