Democrats Oppose Up or Down Vote on Senate Bill in House

Democrats are plunging ahead with their game of healthcare-bill chicken with the American people, literally daring people to throw Democrats out of office in November. 

Lacking the votes to pass the Senate health care bill on its merits (or lack thereof), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and her team are considering different gimmicks in the voting rules to pass the Senate health care bill without voting on it.

That’s the key to Pelosi’ strategy: convince her reluctant members to vote for a “rule” under which the bill would be considered rather than a straight up-or-down vote that voters could understand.

Why not a straight up or down majority vote?  Right. That’s just for the Senate to get past the Republican filibuster.  No need to hold any Dems accountable in the fall.

Rep. David Dreier (R-Ca.), top Republican on the House Rules Committee, held an informal pen and pad session with print reporters yesterday to discuss this latest boondoggle.

“James Madison wanted the process of lawmaking to be an ugly, messy, difficult, laborious process,” Dreier said.  “As they were fleeing the tyranny of King George they wanted to ensure that no one got too much power. … While the process of lawmaking should be ugly, I have never seen it as ugly as it seems to be coming before us this week.”

“We have never before seen anything like this,” Drier continued. “And it comes down to that very simple bottom line. … Every amount of energy that is being applied today is trying to avoid the accountability for an up or down vote.”

There are several scenarios Democrats could choose from in an attempt to “deem” the bill passed without a direct vote.  From a Dreier memo on the Slaughter Solution strategy:

“Under the Democratic Majority’s strategy, they must get 2 bills to the President’s desk: (1) the Senate-passed healthcare bill and (2) the reconciliation “fix-it” legislation colloquially referred to as the ‘sidecar.’ The House Budget Committee is beginning the process by marking up the ‘fix-it’ bill [yesterday]. That bill will be just a shell. Its text will be replaced in the Rules Committee with the still unseen (as of Monday morning) text of the reconciliation bill. Bearing in mind the main problem facing the Majority — a lack of votes for the Senate-passed bill — we expect them to use the rule providing for consideration of the Senate and sidecar bills to minimize the number of difficult votes they will have to force their Members to take.

“If the Majority were to handle these items under regular order, we could expect up or down votes on both the Senate-passed healthcare bill and the sidecar bill. We know that won’t happen. Their political problem is a lack of will to take that all-important first vote on the Senate healthcare bill. This brings us to the “Slaughter Solution” and its many variations.”
According to Dreier’s memo, there are five possible solutions that Democrats are considering:

Scenario #1: “Playing it Straight” Rules would provide for a straight up or down vote on both the Senate-passed health care bill and the budget reconciliation “sidecar” bill.

Scenario #2: “Slaughter Solution 1” A vote passing the rule “deems” the Senate health care bill as passed immediately and sends it to the President for signature, allowing an up or down vote on the budget reconciliation “sidecar” bill only.

Scenario #3: “Slaughter Solution 2” A vote passing the rule “deems” the Senate health care bill passed upon the House adoption of the budget reconciliation “sidecar” bill, allowing an up or down vote on the reconciliation bill only.

Scenario #4: “Slaughter Solution 3” A vote passing the rule “deems” the Senate health care bill passed in the House upon adoption by the Senate of the budget reconciliation “sidecar” bill, allowing an up or down House vote on the reconciliation bill only.  (This scenario could be deemed void now that the Senate parliamentarian has verbally ruled a bill must be signed into law before the Senate can act on a reconciliation measure.  You can’t pull back the bill when it’s already signed into law by the President.)

Scenario #5: “The Double Whammy” A vote to pass two rules, Rule #1 turns off the Motion to Recommit that can be offered by Republicans.   Rule #2 “deems” the Senate health care bill passed and sends it immediately to the President and “deems” the budget reconciliation “sidecar” bill as passed and sends it immediately to the Senate.

This fifth scenario would facilitate passage of the Senate health care bill and the budget reconciliation “sidecar” bills without an up or down, recorded vote on either measure.

Regardless of the gimmickry used, the Senate bill must pass “as is” complete with all of the backroom deals: the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, Gator Aid — the entirety of the parade of horribles — and must first be signed into law.  Only later could the Senate consider any changes using the budget reconciliation process to sidestep a filibuster and pass the measure with 51 votes.

Further, even if House Democrats were to trust the Senate to later pass some sort of “fix-it” bill after the bill is law (there are currently over 250 House-passed measures waiting for action in the Senate), if one single provision of the reconciliation measure were stricken down under the Byrd Rule in the Senate, the House would be forced to vote once again on the “fixes.” 

According to Drier’s memo, “The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 had three provisions which were stricken on Byrd rule points of order despite a thorough review.”

These best laid plans could be derailed by Senate Republicans who have vowed to go “line by line” through the reconciliation bill looking for points of order under the Byrd Rule.  Without 60 votes to overrule (Democrats now control 59), any offending language would be stripped and back to the House it goes.

Democrats on the House Budget Committee voted yesterday to fast-track the shell reconciliation bill that will later contain the reconciliation language.  This starts a 48-hour clock to allow the Rules Committee to begin their shenanigans as early as Wednesday. 

“We are the only committee without cameras, other than the Intelligence Committee and the Ethics Committee,” Drier noted.

Action by the Rules Committee then trips the 72-hour clock on the vote for passage of the rule on the House floor.  Should the Rules Committee move at the first opportunity on Wednesday, a floor vote on the rule could come as early as Saturday. 

It is this floor vote on the rule(s) that could “deem” the entire health care bill as passed without voting on it.

Of course, House leadership does not have the votes to pass the Senate bill through the House using regular, transparent procedures.  If they did, they wouldn’t be jumping through these procedural perversions trying to mask the votes.