The Democrats in Congress are scrambling. With Scott Brown now the 41st vote for a filibuster, the path for getting health-care reform passed is unclear. At this point, pretty much the only option is for the House to vote on the Senate bill unchanged, with the promise that alterations will be passed via the budget reconciliation process which requires only 51 votes in the Senate immediately after or even immediately beforehand. It’s unclear whether Congressional Democrats have the stomachs for the bill at all any longer, so haunted are they by the Brown victory. But if they choose this route over resigned defeat, one little-known, unelected Senate employee will become more important and fall under greater scrutiny than he probably ever has in his life. His name is Alan Frumin, the Senate’s parliamentarian the chamber’s expert on its many arcane rules and procedures and his rulings on what can be voted on using the budget reconciliation process could make or break health-care reform.
See, under the Senate’s Byrd Rule, named for Senator Robert Byrd, only items that directly impact budgetary matters can be considered under the budget reconciliation process. Makes sense. But what “directly” really means isn’t so clear-cut. It all depends on how stringent Alan Frumin wants to be. So who is Alan Frumin, and how amenable would he be to helping the Democrats push health-care reform through? Here’s what we know about him.
He hails from New Rochelle, New York. His father, Harry, who died in 2003, was an internist and cardiologist. He graduated from Colgate University in 1968 with a double major in economics and political science, and from George Washington Law School in 1971. In 1981 he married Jill Brown, at that time a trial lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission. He began working in the parliamentarian’s office in 1977, and first became Senate parliamentarian in 1987, before being replaced by Robert Dove in 1995 when Republicans won back the Senate, at which point he served as the assistant parliamentarian. In 2001 he was reappointed parliamentarian by Majority Leader Trent Lott after Dove made some decisions displeasing to the Mississippian. He currently makes $170,000 a year.
Frumin has a mustache, and doesn’t like giving interviews. He traveled to Germany in 2006 and India in 2008, and attended Barack Obama’s inauguration, as well as his White House luau, according to photos publicly available on Google. Sometimes he wears cut-off jean shorts, according to the same photos.
More to the point, in 2005, Harry Reid claimed that Frumin opposed attempts by Republicans to bypass a filibuster of judicial nominees — the so-called “nuclear option” that never came to pass — perhaps indicating a reverence for the filibuster in general. But most saliently, last April, Frumin reportedly told Senator Kent Conrad that health-care legislation “passed through the reconciliation process may end up looking like ‘Swiss cheese,’ because certain provisions of a bill may survive while others are stricken,” according to The Hill.
In that same article, Robert Dove said of Frumin, “I talk to him regularly. He is not looking forward to this. All I can tell you is he’s a very good man. He will call it straight. He will make all kind of enemies.” We can only imagine that he’s looking forward to it even less now.