The emerging idea that the Senate Parliamentarian has the final say over whether health care can be passed under reconciliation is just flat-out wrong. The current Senate Parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, was hired by Republicans when they were in the majority, but only after Republicans had fired a previous Parliamentarian for not ruling in their favor. From The Hill (emphasis mine):
The fate of healthcare reform may come down to the decisions of one unelected congressional officer: Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin.
Frumin will decide which proposals can be passed through a special budget process Democrats are considering to move healthcare reform this year. Bills submitted through the process, known as reconciliation, aren't subject to filibusters, meaning Democrats would need only 51 votes - and probably no Republicans - to win approval.(...)
"It's horrible," said Robert Dove, Frumin's predecessor as Senate parliamentarian. "It's absolutely horrible. It puts the parliamentarian in a terrible position. I have done it myself and been extraordinarily criticized. I assume he will be also."(...)
Dove was fired in 2001 (Frumin replaced him) after Republican senators, then in the majority, disputed several of his rulings. Dove, who was hired by GOP senators, had decided that parts of a Republican tax cut plan couldn't be passed through the reconciliation process because to do so would have enlarged the federal deficit.
It is bullshit to claim that Senate Democrats have no choice but to accept the decisions of a single, unelected guy who was hired by Republicans in order to give Republicans favorable interpretations of Senate procedure. That is just a pathetic example of abdicating any responsibility and a declaration that there is a complete lack of Democratic leadership over the Senate. Oh, I know we were elected by the American people, but we have no choice but to follow the rulings of this one unelected guy who Republicans hired to give them favorable rulings.
The fact is that Democrats only need 50 votes, plus the Vice-President, to sustain a ruling from the chair that they are ignoring the interpretation of Senate Parliamentarian and moving forward regardless of what he says. That is a fact. They are not powerless before the unelected, Republican-hired Parliamentarian.
Claims that Democrats have no power but to accept the interpretation of the Parliamentarian are simply opposition to health care reform by another name. Democrats were elected by the American people, at least partially because we have a health care crisis. Their power and their mandate is not entirely voided by byzantine Senate process. If Democrats are fine with passing health care reform with only 51 votes, then there is nothing stopping them from doing so.
The American people elected Senators, not the Senate Parliamentarian. The Senate is controlled by Senators, not the Senate Parliamentarian. Passing health care reform is a lot more important than respecting Senate tradition.
Update: Let me summarize this quickly and clearly:
Bottom line: using 60 votes or 51 votes is a choice. Democrats are not forced down the 60 vote path.
- There are rules of process in place that would allow Democrats to pass health care reform (or anything, for that matter), with 51 votes in the Senate.
- Whether or not Senate Democrats decide to go that route is a choice. They are not forced to go down the 60 vote path.