Another day in the health care reform debate brings with it another battle over parliamentary procedure, and another example of the media struggling to get some basic facts right. Today, the battle is joined over deeming resolutions, the process by which House Democrats may finally overcome hurdles and worries to get the process of passing reform moving forward.
The GOP has advanced the idea that the "deem and pass" process -- also known as "The Slaughter Rule" because the idea was suggested by Representative Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) -- is tantamount to passing health care reform without voting on it. The media has largely accepted, or at least lent credence to this premise. But does that sound right to you, Marc Ambinder? "that's wrong. House Democrats aren't doing that. In fact, they ARE taking an up or down vote on the Senate health care bill. They're just doing it AT THE SAME TIME as they're passing the reconciliation language, which countermands several controversial provisions.Here's what's going on. The House is stuck having to basically pass the Senate health care bill, because the bill cannot be reconciled in conference committee. Why? Because it will be filibustered. However, House members are averse to doing anything that looks like they approve of the various side-deals that were made in the Senate -- like the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback." The House intends to remove those unpopular features in budget reconciliation, but if they pursue budget reconciliation on a standard legislative timeline -- where they pass the Senate bill outright first and then go back to pass a reconciliation package of fixes -- they'd still appear to be endorsing the sketchy side deals, and then the GOP would jump up and down on their heads.
Enter "deem and pass." Under this process, the House will simply skip to approving the reconciliation fixes, and "deem" the Senate bill to be passed. By doing it this way, the Democrats get the Senate bill passed while simultaneously coming out against the unpopular features of the same. YES. All of this is basically motivated by concerns over perceptions and other such cosmetic bullshit. This is all about the House Democrats being scared out of their minds that they'll have to spend even an hour explaining, "No, we do not approve of the Cornhusker Kickback." But that's America, circa 2010. It makes the Democrats look timid, but it doesn't make them wrong. This is now the third round of opposition that's been put before the media ever since the "Slaughter Rule" was first proposed. The first round featured Republicans going nuts about it, on the grounds that it was some sort of unprecedented legislative maneuver. Just like they said about budget reconciliation! Sadly, that doesn't bear up under scrutiny. As Ryan Grim reports, however, deeming resolutions are pretty darned precedented:The first time that the chamber used what's known as a "deeming resolution" -- the mechanism Democrats are leaning toward using to pass the Senate health care bill through the House -- was March 16, 1933.
Then, as now, it involved a bill that had little support in the chamber among individual Democrats, but all of them knew they had to pass it. Very few Democrats want to vote for the Senate version of health care reform, but most are okay with it as long as it's amended through reconciliation. Less than two weeks into FDR's first 100 days, Congress needed to raise its debt ceiling, a ritual vote that hasn't gotten any easier for the majority party in the intervening 77 years -- and is still political fodder for partisan opponents. Instead of voting on the underlying Senate bill to raise the debt ceiling in 1933, the House voted on Resolution 63, which stated that "immediately upon the adoption of this resolution the bill H.R. 2820, with Senate amendments thereto, be, and the same hereby is, taken from the Speaker's table to the end that all Senate amendments be, and the same are hereby, agreed to." More recently, Grim notes that deeming resolutions were used by Republicans "36 times in 2005 and 2006," and by Democrats "49 times in 2007 and 2008."But the way that some journalists are describing it, you'd think the House Democrats were willing a bill into law by magic. "House may try to pass Senate health-care bill without voting on it," blared a Washington Post headline. The Post's only explanation of the tactic came from Nancy Pelosi, who said, "It's more insider and process-oriented than most people want to know."
The Wall Street Journal editorial board went even further, beginning their editorial with a cutesy fairy tale setup. We're not sure American schools teach civics any more, but once upon a time they taught that under the U.S. Constitution a bill had to pass both the House and Senate to become law. Until this week, that is, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi is moving to merely "deem" that the House has passed the Senate health-care bill and then send it to President Obama to sign anyway. None of this is new! Does one side want health care and the other side not want health care and nobody wants to compromise? Yay! SHINY HORSE RACE FOR THE MEDIA TO COVER. Who cares if the contention that Nancy Pelosi wants to pass health care reform without a vote is a lie? To the political press, a lie is just an "interesting point of view."
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