WASHINGTON — Democrats are tying the fate of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul to a fast-track process that will make the bill tough for Republicans to derail in the Senate. Here are questions and answers about the reconciliation process, which has itself become controversial as the health care debate enters its end stage.
How does reconciliation make the process simpler?
It's a blunt instrument that makes it easier for the majority party to win. It has little impact in the House, where the majority usually has its way. But in the Senate, it prevents the minority party from using a filibuster on certain bills related to the budget. It limits debate to 20 hours.
What weapons do Republicans have?
They can claim that certain provisions violate the budget act, which if the Senate parliamentarian agrees would strip those items from the legislation. The top Republican on the Budget Committee, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said he has about a dozen points of order he can use to "punch holes" in the bill.
Can Republicans try to amend the legislation?
Absolutely, and theoretically they can offer an unlimited number of amendments. After the 20 hours of debate have expired, they begin a so-called vote-a-rama, an exhausting marathon in which senators vote on amendments with little or no debate or interruption.
Can Democrats curb this?
Republicans will need the physical stamina to offer an unending parade of amendments. With votes occurring every few minutes, Democrats won't make it easy for them.
So it looks tough for Republicans to defeat the bill in the Senate?
Yes, but remember: Republicans can score political points even as they lose votes. They can offer amendments highlighting their vision of health overhaul, or even unrelated amendments.
Do senators trust the chamber's parliamentarian?
Alan Frumin, the parliamentarian, has been appointed by both Democrats and Republicans when each had a Senate majority.