Republicans now facing Democrats' Deem Team on health-care reform

Hundreds of conservative activists gathered outside the Capitol on Tuesday morning to urge Congress not to pass the health care legislation.
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Just days before the climactic vote on health-care reform, the "tea party" movement issued an unexpected surrender.

It came Tuesday at the "Code Red" rally across the street from the Capitol, just a few minutes after a man dressed in a Captain America costume served as the color guard for the singing of the national anthem. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), a favorite of the tea partiers, leapt onto a bench to address the few hundred activists. He pressed what he thought was the "on" button on the electronic bullhorn.

But the lawmaker evidently hit the wrong button, because it caused a recorded voice to boom: "You sunk my battleship! You sunk my battleship! You sunk my battleship!"

This was not the message conservatives were hoping to send -- but the balky megaphone may well have been speaking the truth. Those who thought they could defeat health-care reform now find themselves being outmaneuvered in their war games by a devious new foe: the Deem Team.

That team began to suit up Monday, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she favors a "deem and pass" legislative maneuver that would allow the House to pass the Senate's health-care bill without actually having to vote on it. It was a diabolical plan -- and for Democrats, who spent the past year or so denouncing Republicans for just such parliamentary gimmicks, it was hypocritical. But it just might work.

On Tuesday morning, another member of the Deem Team, House Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), sent out a 2,000-word memo defending the use of "self-executing rules" under which something can be "deemed" into law. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who has also signed on with the Deem Team, held a long news conference defending the process of deeming. He deemed that the Republicans deemed twice as frequently as the Democrats have deigned to deem.

"There's a whole lot of deemin' goin' on," Gohmert told the tea party crowd after organizers finally silenced the bullhorn and gave him a new one. "There's a lot of demons around here, apparently."

But what to do about it?

"Kill the bill!" rolls off the tongue, but it's hard to make a good chant out of parliamentary tactics -- certainly nothing as good as the sign Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) spotted in the crowd: "Grandma Isn't Shovel Ready." Gohmert tried to lead the tea partiers in a chant of "Self-executing!" but it died out quickly. Another speaker, conservative activist Colin Hanna, attempted to start a chant of "Deem it dead!" -- but that didn't work much better.

In a news conference late Tuesday, Pelosi was confident of victory for the Deem Team. "We will do what is necessary to pass a health-care bill," she vowed, pronouncing her side "in pretty good shape." Asked about her whip count, she flashed a smile and said slyly: "I never stop whipping."


With the emergence of the Deem Team, the health-care debate, now in its 15th month, has shed any last vestige of substance. It has become an exercise in Robert's Rules of Order, as Republicans use every parliamentary means at their disposal to defeat the bill and Democrats retaliate by using every parliamentary method to pass it. Both sides are piling up hypocrisies like unpaid medical bills.

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