House may try to pass Senate health-care bill without voting on it
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
After laying the groundwork for a decisive vote this week on the Senate's health-care bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Monday that she might attempt to pass the measure without having members vote on it.
Instead, Pelosi (D-Calif.) would rely on a procedural sleight of hand: The House would vote on a more popular package of fixes to the Senate bill; under the House rule for that vote, passage would signify that lawmakers "deem" the health-care bill to be passed.
The tactic -- known as a "self-executing rule" or a "deem and pass" -- has been commonly used, although never to pass legislation as momentous as the $875 billion health-care bill. It is one of three options that Pelosi said she is considering for a late-week House vote, but she added that she prefers it because it would politically protect lawmakers who are reluctant to publicly support the measure.
"It's more insider and process-oriented than most people want to know," the speaker said in a roundtable discussion with bloggers Monday. "But I like it," she said, "because people don't have to vote on the Senate bill."
Republicans quickly condemned the strategy, framing it as an effort to avoid responsibility for passing the legislation, and some suggested that Pelosi's plan would be unconstitutional.
"It's very painful and troubling to see the gymnastics through which they are going to avoid accountability," Rep. David Dreier (Calif.), the senior Republican on the House Rules Committee, told reporters. "And I hope very much that, at the end of the day, that if we are going to have a vote, we will have a clean up-or-down vote that will allow the American people to see who is supporting this Senate bill and who is not supporting this Senate bill."
House leaders have worked for days to round up support for the legislation, but the Senate measure has drawn fierce opposition from a broad spectrum of members. Antiabortion Democrats say it would permit federal funding for abortion, liberals oppose its tax on high-cost insurance plans, and Republicans say the measure overreaches and is too expensive.
Some senior lawmakers have acknowledged in recent days that Democrats lack the votes for passage. Pelosi, however, predicted Monday that she would deliver.
"When we have a bill, then we will let you know about the votes. But when we bring the bill to the floor, we will have the votes," she told reporters.
Pelosi said Monday that House Democrats have yet to decide how to approach the vote. But she added that any strategy involving a separate vote on the Senate bill "isn't too popular," and aides said the leadership is likely to bow to the wishes of its rank and file.
As Pelosi and other congressional leaders pressed wavering lawmakers, President Obama highlighted how close the result may be as he focused his attention Monday on Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has been a stalwart no vote on health-care reform.
Kucinich, an uncompromising liberal, has rejected any measure without a government-run insurance plan. Obama invited Kucinich to join him aboard Air Force One for a trip to suburban Cleveland, where the president made a plea for reform, the third such pitch in eight days.