Parliamentary problems were identified early Thursday morning with two provisions in the package of legislative fixes to the health care bill the House approved last weekend and sent to the Senate Tuesday after President Obama signed the main part of the legislation into law.
That means the 153-page reconciliation bill must now be sent back to the House where Democrats will have to vote on it again. Republicans voted against the legislation as well as the main health care bill. Reconciliation is a budgetary procedure that requires a simple 50-vote majoirty for a bill to pass. Senate Democrats are using reconciliation to pass the measure to block a Republican-led filibuster.
According to an Associated Press report, Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said "Republicans consulting with the Senate parliamentarian [Alan Frumin] had found 'two minor provisions' that violate Congress' budget rules. The provisions deal with Pell grants for low-income students."
"Manley said those two provisions [totaling 16 lines of text] will be removed from the bill, and he expected the Senate to approve the measure and send it to the House, " the AP reported. "Manley said Senate leaders, after conversations with top House Democrats, expect the House to approve the revised measure."
Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the "changes do not impact the reforms to the student loan programs and the important investments in education. We are confident the House will quickly pass the bill with these minor changes."
The New York Times noted "under the reconciliation rules, provisions in the bill must directly affect government spending or revenues."
"The risk for Democrats in a parliamentary challenge is that Republicans could knock out key provisions of the legislation, or win a decision that upends the mechanisms Democrats rely on to pay for the measure," The Times reported, adding that there is a third, unknown issue Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin is reviewing.
The parliamentary issues arose at around 2:30 am following a marathon session where Democrats successfully voted down 29 amendments Republicans introduced in an attempt to derail the legislation.
After the parliamentarian ruled in favor of Republicans, Reid struck a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to adjourn the session until 9:45 am Thursday. Reid indicated the Senate's work on the bill would be complete by mid-afternoon.
While the re-vote is seen as minor, it will no doubt become a public relations nightmare for Democrats who were hoping to prevail against parliamentary challenges by Republicans and swiftly pass the reconciliation bill before lawmakers leave for spring recess this weekend.
That Democrats were unsuccessful will no doubt be used by Republicans to further fan the flames of dissent and will likely lead to additional incidents of vandalism and death threats directed at Democrats by individuals who oppose the legislation.
The buildup to last Sunday's vote in the House was marred by death threats against Obama on Twitter by a conservative blogger and racist and homophobic epithets directed at Democratic Reps. Barney Frank, who is openly gay, and John Lewis, who is African American, by Tea Party activists as the lawmakers entered the Capitol.
Obama signed the $940 billion health care bill into law Tuesday. It will extend health care coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans and outlaw some of the health insurance industry's most controversial practices, such as dropping individuals from their plans when they get sick.
But it's also a law that now requires Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a fine, a provision that has angered progressives who said the mandate is a gift to private health insurance companies.
To secure enough votes to win passage of the bill, Obama said last Sunday he would sign an executive order reaffirming that federal funds would not be used to subsidize abortions, a move aimed to appease pro-life Democrats such as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), who vowed to oppose the legislation unless it included tougher anti-abortion language.
Obama signed the executive order Wednesday.