WASHINGTON – As momentum behind health care legislation seemed to gather in the House Tuesday, Republicans mounted a last-ditch effort to undercut the Democrats’ newest gambit for bringing it to a climactic vote later this week.
To speed the bill’s passage – and to limit attacks on rank-and-file Democrats for supporting controversial provisions – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is considering a strategy that would allow the House to adopt the Senate version of the health care overhaul without casting a roll call vote on that measure.
Republicans are trying to throw Democrats on the defensive by denouncing that maneuver as highhanded and unseemly – even though the GOP has used the same shortcut.
At issue is how to carry out Democrats’ goal of enacting the Senate health care bill – but with significant revisions sought by the House, such as elimination of special Medicaid subsidies for Nebraska and Louisiana that have been widely denounced as favoritism. The revisions would be included in a separate measure called a budget reconciliation bill.
Many House Democrats are loath to vote directly for the Senate bill, fearing it would be held against them by political opponents. The legislative device that has stirred the latest GOP attacks would solve that problem by having the House approve special ground rules for handling the reconciliation bill.
The ground rules would include a provision that “deems” the Senate bill passed when the reconciliation bill is passed – avoiding a direct vote on the Senate measure.
The controversy over an arcane point of procedure is the latest example of how Republicans, though virtually powerless to change the content of the health care overhaul, have tried to hobble Democrats by discrediting the legislative process.
House Democratic leaders held a closed-door meeting Tuesday to steady their caucus in the face of GOP charges that they are using parliamentary trickery to advance the health care legislation.
“A lot of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle would prefer to talk about process because they don’t want to talk about the substance of what’s in the bill,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
House leaders continued trying to nail down the final votes they need, putting the finishing touches on the budget reconciliation bill’s language and awaiting a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.
At a news conference Tuesday, Pelosi said she had not yet decided on her legislative strategy for bringing the bill to a vote, but she did not rule out the controversial shortcut. “We will do what is necessary,” Pelosi said.
Republicans claimed that amounts to parliamentary trickery, but “deeming resolutions” have been used dozens of times in the past – including by Republicans when they controlled the House from 1994-2006 – to speed action on legislation or to sidestep difficult votes.
In 1996, for example, the House used the process to enact of a bill giving the president a line-item veto.