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A GOP Health Care Loophole?

Senate Republicans say they've found a loophole that they could use to kill health care reform. The Democratic plan is to have the House of Representatives pass the Senate health care bill, while having both chambers use a budget reconciliation bill to fix objectionable measures. The advantage of that plan is that a reconciliation bill just needs a straight majority in the Senate and can't be filibustered.

Except Republicans say maybe it can:

Republicans say they have found a loophole in the budget reconciliation process that could allow them to offer an indefinite number of amendments.

Though it has never been done, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) says he’s prepared to test the Senate’s stamina to block the Democrats from using the process to expedite changes to the healthcare bill.

Experts on Senate procedural rules, from both parties, note that such a filibuster is possible. While reconciliation rules limit debate to 20 hours, senators lack similiar constraints on amendments and could conceivably continue offering them until 60 members agree to cut the process off.

The Democrats do have a countermeasure:

Another option for Democrats would be to seek a ruling by the parliamentarian that Republicans are simply filing amendments to stall the process. But such a ruling could taint the final healthcare vote and backfire for Democrats in November.

The story actually provides a fascinating window into the partisan psychology on Capitol Hill. The Republicans might block health care reform by trying a maneuver that, while legal, has never been done before. Democrats might respond in kind with a counter-maneuver that's also legal and has never been done before. Yet the story implies -- accurately, I suspect -- that Democrats fear they would be tainted. The Republicans seem to have no such fear (“You’ll see Republicans do everything they can to delay and stop this process,” says Jim DeMint.)