Democrats' wonky plan to delay GOP health care bill

Dems look to procedural Hail Mary

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Democrats are in the midst of trying a procedural Hail Mary to derail the Senate GOP's bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

It's a long shot, but Democrats believe they've identified an error in the health care bill that would force Republicans to get 60 votes to pass their plan, rather than 51. With only 52 Republicans in the Senate, it could essentially kill the bill.

A warning: we're getting into some seriously wonky territory. But it's important, so stay with us.

Under reconciliation, the way Republicans can try to pass the bill with 51 votes, Republicans have to save $2 billion total. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said last month that Republicans did that in their House bill. But, there is more to the rules. The $2 billion can't come from just anywhere. They have to save $1 billion in each of the relevant committees. That means Republicans have to save $1 billion from programs under the jurisdiction of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee and another $1 billion from the Finance Committee.

Democrats charge Republicans haven't hit the target the HELP committee and accuse them of using budgetary tricks. They want to force the health care bill back to HELP to find more in savings. That would mean a delay and ultimately a committee vote on the plan.

It's a disagreement that's been ongoing for weeks now. Republicans balk at the charge and say it's already been decided, the House health care bill is fine and they are full steam ahead.

Given that Republicans and Democrats are so dug in, it may be the kind of issue that goes to the Senate's parliamentarian.

But here's why Republicans say Democrats may not get very far with their accusation and why even the parliamentarian may not matter.

Under section 312 of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act, Republicans argue that the rules say that it's ultimately up to the Senate Budget Committee Chairman to decide if legislation complies with Senate reconciliation requirements, not a parliamentarian.

Bottom line? At the end of the day, Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, gets to say whether the House health care bill is in compliance with reconciliation.

"The parliamentarian does not decide whether the bill saves enough in HELP jurisdiction to be considered under reconciliation -- again the Chairman of the Budget Committee does," a GOP aide said in an email.


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