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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Is the New Budget Bill Unconstitutional?

Remember the Budget Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 that the president signed on Feb. 8?  (Here are the links to the public law (Pub. L. No. 109-171), the president's signing statement, and our earlier blog entries on the bill [here, here, and here].)  Among other things, the law extends the moratorium on specialty hospitals, plus there's lots of other health-law goodies in there.

Well, it turns out that the House and Senate versions of S.1932 didn't match exactly -- which raises at least a question under the Constitution's bicameralism clause, and it's even possible the president knew that when he signed the bill, at least according to a letter from Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman.  As reported by the AP:

The Senate version of the bill said Medicare can pay to rent some types of medical equipment for 13 months, as intended by congressional negotiators. A clerk erroneously wrote down 36 months before the bill was sent back to the House for a final vote, and that's what the House approved Feb. 1.

By the time the bill was shipped to Bush, the number was back to 13 months as passed by the Senate.

Recognizing the problem, the Senate passed a resolution hours after Bush signed the bill confirming that the measure transmitted to the president was "deemed the true enrollment reflecting the intention of the Congress" [Sen. Con. Res. 80, with the House concurring]. The White House considers the matter settled.

Public Citizen has sued to have the law declared unconstitutional (press release, complaint). The interesting constitutional question is whether the House and Senate can cure the problem after the fact of the president's signing one of two inconsistent versions of a bill.  The more interesting question is whether all of the law's Medicare changes have been thrown into a cocked hat, at least until the House can pass a clean version of S.1932 and the president can re-sign it.

Thanks to Jurist.com for the tip. [tm]

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