Sure, But What About the Senate Funkadelicarian?

by Jonathan Bernstein

Health care reform junkies: you're probably wondering right, what's the deal with the Senate parliamentarian?  Should I trust Republicans who are telling me that the parliamentarian is just a partisan arm of the majority party?  Or should I trust Democrats that the parliamentarian is neutral?  Isn't there some unbiased source that can help me out here?  And, what is wrong with me that I'm actually thinking about -- actually concerned about -- the United States Senate parliamentarian?

Can't help you out with the last question, but for the first ones, see this item at the Monkey Cage for the abstract to a new paper by Tony Madonna.  I skimmed the paper so I can't really comment in depth on it but I can tell you that the opening paragraph has an anecdote that features John Randolph, John Quincy Adams, and John Calhoun, and other stories he tells within the paper feature a lot of other interesting, famous (or infamous) Senators, although I'm afraid to say that there's no appearance by Vice President George Clinton as a presiding officer.  Short story: since the Senate hired a parliamentarian, the rulings of the chair have stopped being partisan.

I should add, however, that for the most part this is really a red herring.  The parliamentarian would matter a lot if the Democrats were trying to put the entire bill through reconciliation, but they're not.  I'm not sure what's going to be in the bill and what isn't, but the most difficult issue of which I'm aware are lifetime caps (I don't think it was actually in the Senate bill, and if that's correct I'd think it would be in the patch bill) the Republicans really want a vote on that one?  More generally, as I've said before, the actual reconciliation bill is almost all ice cream, no spinach, and even if the Republicans do manage to knock out a couple of items it's not clear to me that it will make much difference in the grand scheme of things, although of course any provision in any law may have serious substantive effects on some people.