Alan Frumin is barely known and rarely heard, but he could make or break the Senate Democrats' effort this week to put the final touches on President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul.
Frumin is the Senate parliamentarian, and his advice this week is crucial to Democrats' success as they battle Republican bids to derail the bill that's designed to add important fixes to the health care overhaul that Obama signed into law on Tuesday.
"I compare him to the umpire at a baseball game," said Senate Historian Donald Ritchie. "Everyone is rooting for one team or another, but he's going to call 'em as he sees 'em. His job is the honest broker."
Like an umpire, Frumin's guidance infuriates the losers, heartens the winners and could decide the ballgame. Rarely, however, do players publicly protest.
"You really establish relationships of trust with members of both parties, and people tend to give you the benefit of the doubt," said Kevin Kayes , a Washington lobbyist who served as assistant parliamentarian from 1987 to 2000.
The Senate on Wednesday continued considering the last piece of the Democrats' health care initiative, a "reconciliation" bill that would change parts of the new health law.
The House of Representatives passed the fixes package late Sunday, and the Senate is hoping to concur as soon as Thursday. Since 51 votes are needed, and Democrats control 59 seats, victory is virtually assured _unless Republicans succeed in winning an amendment. Then the House would have to approve it, too.
Or, should Frumin advise that a part of the bill could be inappropriate under the rules governing the special "reconciliation" process, the presiding officer of the Senate , who's always a senator from the majority party, currently the Democrats, would have to rule on how to proceed.
If he or she agreed with Frumin that something in the bill wasn't admissible, Democrats could try to overturn the ruling, but likely would need 60 votes, which probably would be unattainable. If the presiding officer disagreed with Frumin, he or she would be doing something rare in the tradition-heavy Senate — defying the referee.
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Thursday, March 25, 2010
Senate parliamentarian: He's the only one both parties trust
Senate parliamentarian: He's the only one both parties trust; McClatchy Newspapers