House leaders plan separate health vote, rejecting 'deem and pass'

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 20, 2010; 2:31 PM

House leaders have decided to take a separate vote on the Senate health-care bill, rejecting an earlier, much-criticized strategy that would have permitted them to "deem" the unpopular measure passed without an explicit vote.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Saturday that the House would take three votes Sunday: first, on a resolution that will set the terms of debate; second, on a package of amendments to the Senate bill that have been demanded by House members; and third, on the Senate bill itself.

Van Hollen, who has been working on the issue with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said House leaders concluded that that order -- approving the amendments before approving the Senate bill -- makes clear that the House intends to modify the Senate bill and not approve the Senate bill itself.

"Our objective all along was to make it clear that the House is amending the Senate bill, and we found another way of accomplishing that," Van Hollen said in an interview.

House Democrats had considered "deeming" the Senate bill passed along with the amendment package, Pelosi said earlier this week, "because people don't have to vote on the Senate bill."

Though the maneuver has been commonly used in the House, including by Republicans to advance their own favored policies, the idea attracted widespread criticism, and prompted Republicans to accuse House Democrats of trying to avoid taking responsibility for the Senate package. The $875 billion measure contains many politically contentious provisions, including a special deal that would provide extra Medicaid funding to Nebraska that was added to win the vote of Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D). The deal, known as the Cornhusker Kickback, would be stripped out in the package of revisions that the House now plans to approve first.

Van Hollen said Democrats still maintain that deeming the Senate bill passed would have been appropriate and perfectly legal. But, he said, "there was no reason to allow the misinformation campaign to continue. Despite the fact that Republicans used it, we wanted to make the process absolutely clear."

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