Reid ‘Likely’ to Make Entire Health Bill an Amendment to Unrelated Tax Bill That House Passed in March

October 6, 2009 - 2:48 PM
A senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said  it is "likely" that Reid will use H.R. 1586 -- a bill passed by the House in March --as a "shell" for enacting the final version of the Senate's health care bill, which Reid is responsible for crafting.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) -- A senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told CNSNews.com that it is “likely” that Reid will use H.R. 1586—a bill passed by the House in March to impose a 90-percent tax on bonuses paid to employees of certain bailed-out financial institutions—as a “shell” for enacting the final version of the Senate’s health care bill, which Reid is responsible for crafting.

Under the procedure, the substance of House Resolution 1586 would be removed and replaced with the entire Senate health care package. The maneuver would initially require the support of 60 senators to vote for cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 1586 (i.e., end debate on the congressional procedure and move forward).
 
If Reid wins 60 votes, then debate begins on his health care package. Reid could then decide to block all amendments and attempt to get a vote on the entire package.
 
However, a senator could filibuster the final vote, requiring another 60-vote majority to move forward. But if Reid decides to allow any amendments, each amendment could be filibustered, requiring a 60-vote majority to move to a final vote on each of them. An amendment that has the support of more than 50 but less than 60 senators could end up stopping the bill if neither side backs down. But if Reid is able to structure the debate so that all 60 senators who caucus with the Democrats stick with the party on cloture votes, he can pass the bill and send it to back to the House--where it originated as an entirely different bill in substance.
 
If the House were to then vote on the bill as passed by the Senate without amending it, it could be sent directly to the president for his signature without going through a House-Senate conference committee and another round of votes in each chamber.



Concerning that point, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told CNSNews.com on Tuesday that he would not rule in or rule out the possibility of the House holding a direct vote on the Senate health care bill without amending it if it came to the House in the form of H.R. 1586.
 
The actual final text of the legislation will be determined by Reid himself, who will consolidate the legislation approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the still-unapproved legislation from the Senate Finance Committee. Reid will be able to draft and insert textual language that was not expressly approved by either committee.

“It is not definite, but at this point likely, since it is what is available on the calendar,” said the senior aide about Reid using H.R. 1586 as a vehicle for the final text of the Senate health care bill.
 
“If we received another revenue raising bill from the House, we could use that as well,” said the aide. “The underlying text of the bill only matters in the fact that it is a revenue raising bill so that it can serve as a vehicle for us to use. That is all it is. Once you substitute another bill into it that is what the legislation becomes.”

The aide explained that the health care bill will contain tax provisions and that because the Constitution allows only the House to originate revenue bills, the health care bill must originate in the House.  To comply with that constitutional mandate, the Senate must attach its version of the health-care bill to a tax bill that has already passed the House.

“Constitutionally we cannot, we can’t bring that [Reid’s final version of the health care bill] to the Senate floor because anything that’s considered a revenue raising measure, constitutionally we can’t just do that over in the Senate, it has to start in the House,” said the aide. “So, what we do whenever we have situations where you have legislation that’s a revenue raising measure that we end up taking up before the House does, we have to use a bill that’s already been passed by the House that’s on the calendar and available to us and use that just as a shell measure.” 

“So you just bring that to the floor [H.R. 1586], then you amend it with a complete substitute of, you know, whatever bill you want to consider,” said the aide. “In this case it would be that health reform bill. That would substitute the language. So you wouldn’t have the language from the House bill even to consider anymore, it would be this new language that would be, in this case the health bill.”

In a piece entitled "Congress' Secret Plan to Pass Obamacare," Heritage Foundation analyst Brian Darling described the same procedure described by Reid’s aide.

“Majority Leader Reid may, with the proper amount of votes in the Senate (60), offer the Health Care reform bill coming out of the Senate as a complete substitute to an unrelated House-passed bill--H.R. 1586, a bill to impose a tax on bonuses received by certain TARP recipients,” wrote Darling. “This means that the entire health care reform effort will be included as an amendment to a TARP bill that has been collecting dust in the Senate for months.”
 
H.R. 1586 was approved by the House on March 19 as a means of getting back tax dollars that were paid out in bonuses this year to employees of AIG and other financial institutions that had received more than $5 billion in bailout money from the federal government. In the intervening six-and-a-half months, the Senate has not acted on this House bill.

The senior aide to Reid stressed the constitutional necessity of using an already-approved House tax bill as the vehicle for passing the Senate’s health care reform package. 

“I mean, this is constitutional, you have to do it,” said the aide. “I mean the House has to start revenue raising measures. And when you have cases, which happen, it happens all the time where the Senate actually ends up going first on something, you have to use, you know, the House shell bill to do that. And it’s whatever is available on the calendar and in this case, it happens to be this bill [H.R. 1586].”

Darling said that when this technique is used, the bill does not have to go to conference if the House votes on the bill again without changing what the Senate has done.

The senior aide to Reid said “it is still early to say” if the final bill will go to conference, but said that the “next likely step” would in fact be a conference committee to iron out the difference between the House and Senate versions of health care reform.
 
In a Sept. 17 interview at the Latino Congressional Caucus gala, Majority Leader Reid told CNSNews.com that he would put together the final version of the health care bill and that it would differ in some ways from the Finance Committee’s bill. 

“The bill that came out of the Finance Committee isn’t something that is going to get the immediate approval of everybody in America or every senator, but it’s part of the process,” said Reid. “That bill will go now to full committee. They will have a markup. They’ll report a bill out of that committee and then I will take that bill and the bill from the HELP Committee and put it together and bring it on the floor. That’s the bill we need to focus on.”

President Barack Obama gestures while addressing a health insurance reform rally, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

“What’s in that bill (Finance Committee) is not what we’re going to wind up voting on,” said Reid.
 
“We’ll find out before a bill gets on the floor how much it will cost,” said Reid. “I don’t think we should be locked into any number.”
 
Darling said that as majority leader Reid has broad power to shape the final version of the bill.
 
“The Leader has the power to write a bill any way his caucus will allow,” said Darling.
 
“There are no effective limits,” he said, “but the Leader is limited by the general parameters of the Senate HELP and Finance Committee products so that he can claim it is a merging of the two bills.”
 
Darling also said Reid can put “whatever he wants” into the final bill.
 
“There is not a limit of the subject matter of the bill,” said Darling. “Reid can put whatever he wants into the bill if the Democrat caucus allows it.  It is up to him whether a public option is in the bill or whether the Senate inserts a trigger before a public option comes into effect.”
 
“Senator Reid is limited by what the Senate will tolerate,” said Darling. “There is no way to stop the Senate Majority Leader from moving to proceed to a House-passed bill, then offering up his own version of Obamacare. Because the Democrat caucus has a working majority of 60 votes, they can do what they want and individual Republican members only have the power to extend debate and attempt to offer Amendments. If Reid uses a parliamentary procedure to block amendments, by ‘Filling the Tree,’ then members will have to get the consent of the Leader to offer Amendments.  Reid is only limited by the lengths his caucus allows to pass a bill.”
 
The timeline for this process is still unclear. An amendment proposed by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) in the Finance Committee markup would have required the full text of that committee’s bill to be posted online for 72 hours before the committee could vote on it. But that amendment was defeated.
 
Reid’s senior aide did not want to get into the specifics of the bill because it is “too early,” but said the final bill Reid brings to the floor will likely include not only sections of the Senate Finance and HELP committee bills that overlap but also sections that do not overlap.
 
“There are several portions of the two bills that overlap, the portions that do not will likely be included in the final bill as well,” said the aide. “That bill will then of course be open to amendments on the floor where I would anticipate certain portions of the bill have a possibility of being taken out.” 
 
A Republican Senate leadership aide echoed Darling’s analysis, saying the Senate Democratic leadership can redraft the health care bill any way it wants before bringing it to the floor.