Saturday, March 20, 2010

health care vote

As NPR's health blogger Scott Hensley reported this morning in the Shots blog, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is contemplating a not-so-unusual rules maneuver that would allow her caucus members to simultaneously vote on changes they want made to the Senate health care bill, while also endorsing the bill.

And it's causing all sorts of Capitol Hill sturm und drang today, as the speaker continues to hunt for votes to pass health care legislation this week, and GOP leaders pull out all the stops to kill it. Republican leaders this morning vowed to introduce a resolution that would compel House Democratic leaders to hold separate votes on the Senate-passed bill.

The tandem voting approach Pelosi is contemplating falls under something officially called a "self-executing rule," or "deem and pass" (short-handed to "deeming" by some in the news media). It is her way of assuring House Democrats who hate the Senate bill that the provisions they find most odious -- including special Medicare deals for Nebraska, a tax on "Cadillac" insurance plans -- won't ever be part of a bill signed by the president.

Previous predictions about the route health care legislation would take had the House voting on the Senate bill, which, if approved, the president would sign into law. Fixes would then be made in a separate reconciliation bill -- a plan that made many House Democrats, mistrustful of the Senate, nervous and Pelosi's job more difficult.

Her plan to corral those on-the-fence Democrats with the dual vote scenario has infuriated conservatives. They've been fulminating that the process is unprecedented, that it would allow Democrats to avoid an up-or-down vote on the whole health care package, that it's never been used for such an enormous undertaking, and that it's unconstitutional.

The Democrats' response? Something akin to puh-leeze.

The Democratic National Committee has distributed a copy of a 2006 article that appeared in Roll Call, which explains the self-executing rule. And it also notes that it was during the Republican Congress of the mid-1990s that the procedure became commonplace. The piece was written by former GOP Rules Committee chief of staff Don Wolfensberger.

Marc Ambinder, blogging for The Atlantic, labels as simply wrong GOP arguments that House Democrats are trying to push through health care legislation without an up-or-down vote. Ambinder says that House members will essentially be asked to vote for the Senate bill -- with amendments attached.

During an interview with NPR Monday, health policy analyst Alec Vachon said he's not sure on what basis Republicans can challenge the constitutionality of Pelosi's approach.

"I have to assume that ever parliamentary trick has been tried" since the nation's founding, Vachon said. "And the Constitution says that the House is the arbiter of its own rules."

"Trick" is just the word Republicans want to see attached to the maneuver.

"It will go down as one of the most extraordinary legislative sleights of hand in history," Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Tuesday.

The messy end-game debate continues. And it's only Tuesday.

(Liz Halloran is a Washington correspondent for NPR's Digital News desk.)

Update at 4 p.m. ET. This afternoon, NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, Pelosi was asked about "deeming" and told reporters on Capitol Hill that:

"I didn't hear any of that ferocity when they (Republicans) used it hundreds of times."

And on "whipping" for votes, she said, "I never stop whipping. There's no beginning, no middle no end. My life is a constant whip operation."

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