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Biden rules

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Vice President Joe Biden
could play a bigger role when it comes to the health-care process going forward than most people previously understood.

Former Senate parliamentarian of 37 years Robert Dove said on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown that the vice president, who also functions as the president of the Senate, can override the parliamentarian when it comes to what qualifies under reconciliation.

"The parliamentarian only can advise," Dove said. "It is the vice president who rules."

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It is widely understood that the parliamentarian would rule whether or not items under reconciliation are germaine to the budget. It wasn't always the case that items under reconciliation had to pertain to the budget. But it had been used so often to defeat filibusters, Dove said, that in the 1980s Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) instituted a the budget rule. It is now known as the Byrd Rule. The parliamentarian currently is Alan Frumin.

Not since Hubert Humphrey, Dove said, has there been a vice president played such a powerful role. But as NBC's Chuck Todd, who co-hosts the show, pointed out, perhaps not since Humphrey has the U.S. seen a vice president as comfortable with the rules of the Senate as Biden. 

"That's why I brought this up," Dove said. "Yes. Humphrey had been the majority whip. He had been in the Senate since 1948. He felt very comfortable playing an important role. And it's quite possible that Vice President Biden [would]."

On the use of reconciliation, Dove said that it "has been used a lot. I would never use the term illegitimate when it comes to reconciliation. ... It has been used for very large, major bills. It is a way of getting around the problem of the Senate filibuster."

Some of the "fixes" Democrats would like to pass, however, might not be available because of the Byrd Rule. And it's not cut and dry what would qualify.

For example, Dove said, in 1995, under a large reconciliation bill, one item was not allowing any federal funding for abortions. While the item did score by the Congressional Budget Office and would have saved the government money, Dove disallowed it, because he found that the intent of its inclusion wasn't a budgetary one, but for policy.

Here's a transcript of the exchange:

ROBERT DOVE: Ultimately, it's the vice president of the United States, but I can tell you I have...

CHUCK TODD: Wait a minute, explain that.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Yeah, what does that mean?

DOVE: It is the decision of the vice president whether or not to play a role here.

TODD: He can play president of the Senate.

DOVE: Absolutely. And I have seen vice presidents play that role in other, very important situations. Hubert Humphrey...

GUTHRIE: So the vice president could overrule the parliamentarian?

DOVE: Oh, absolutely. The parliamentarian only can advise. It is the vice president who rules. But I will say that not since Hubert Humphrey have I seen a vice president try to play that kind of role in the Senate.

TODD: But not since Hubert Humphrey have we had a vice president this familiar with Senate rules as this vice president in Joe Biden.

DOVE: That's why I brought this up. Yes. Humphrey had been the majority whip. He had been in the Senate since 1948.

TODD: He knew that place.

DOVE: He felt very comfortable playing an important role. And it's quite possible that Vice President Biden...