Posted by: mutantpoodle | March 16, 2010

Pearl-clutching about process

Cartoon by Paul Fell, Artizans Syndicate

One of the impediments to getting health care reform passed since Scott Brown won the special election for Ted Kennedy’s seat in January (and yes, it still hurts to type that) is that the House doesn’t trust the Senate to do what needs to be done.  It’s taken nearly two months to get to the point where House members are almost willing to vote on the Senate bill, fraught as it is with petty bribes to leverage-drunk Senators willing to hold health care reform hostage to their more parochial concerns.

So the dance, over the past month or so, is how to get the Senate bill “fixed” so that the votes for it could be found in the House, now that it appears that the Senate can’t pass fixes to its own bill until it is signed into law.

In a  sane world, the differences between the two versions would be worked out between the Houses of Congress, a unified package presented, and that would get an “up or down vote” in the Senate and the house. Of course, the election of Scott Brown removed the last vestige of sanity from the Senate, which is unable to vote on anything related to healthcare reform under normal Senate rules, requiring the negotiated fixes to the Senate bill – including the stripping out of the various deals that so many Congressmen human beings find so noxious – to be handled through the “reconciliation” process, which, on budget-related items only, eliminates the power of the minority to filibuster.

[This limitation of reconciliation is what has made it impossible for House leaders to assuage the forced-birth rantings of Bart Stupak, as his anti-abortion language, if placed in the reconciliation package,  would not qualify as having a budgetary impact under reconciliation, and would almost certainly be stripped from the bill by the Senate Paliamentarian.  It’s possible to override these rulings, but that override requires – you guessed it – 60 votes, and the Senate GOP promised they would hold firm to their transient pro-choice bona fides to prevent that, just to make passage of health reform tougher.]

This, in and of itself, has caused fainting spells among the delicate flowers in the Republican party, who argue (incorrectly) that reconciliation has never been used for anything this big (except, of course, when the GOP used it to pass George Bush’s deficit-busting tax cuts). And Lindsey Graham suggested that the use of the reconciliation process could kill prospects for immigration reform this year. (Immigration reform was going to happen in an election year? Really?)

But if you thought the angst on the right for using reconciliation to pass the modifications to the health care bill that passed the Senate in December with 60 votes was something, here’s the latest.

The House is likely to use what’s called a self-executing rule to pass the Senate bill along with the fixes that make the Senate bill less noxious. House members will vote on the package of fixes, and the House rules will state that, by rule, if the fixes pass, the underlying Senate legislation is considered passed as well.

Now, the GOP spin is that the House will be passing the Senate bill without voting on it, and even Ezra Klein thinks that it’s bad politics to do this.

I, for one, couldn’t care less.

First, the GOP isn’t exactly virginal on the issue of self-executing rules, including one instance dubbed “the mother of all self-executing rules,” instigated by GOP Representative David Dreier.

This David Dreier:

Dreier ripped the plan as “trying to avoid the accountability of an up-or-down vote” and said it violated Pelosi’s pledge of an open and transparent Congress. “It pains me to see,” he said.

Yes – Dreier used a triple self-executing rule to gut ethics legislation. It’s painful to see it used for the public good.

Second, as obfuscatory legislative tactics go, this one’s pretty transparent.  It’s not like people don’t know what they’re voting for, and it’s not difficult to lay out what, in total, was passed.

Anyway, I don’t really care.  Sure, it would be good if the House just voted on the two pieces in sequence, but I understand why they wouldn’t want to, given the uncertainties inherent in trusting the Senate, and the noxious optics of the Senate bill in isolation. Furthermore, a vote for the fixes is a vote for a specific package of health reform, for which representatives can be attacked or defended come the fall.

Come November, how health care passed – or failed – will matter far less than the mere fact of its fate.  So if this is what it takes to get it done, then do it.  Pass the damned bill.



  1. You sound as if you still expect our Congress to do more than act like three year olds. Optimistic of you. I hope you’re right.

    As far as knowing what they’re voting for, I wish I did. I wish they did.

    Upshot: with no public option, how much more am I going to have to pay for health insurance, with my policy going up every six months now and no end in sight. With retirement looming large, here’s what I’m thinking is my best long term health care insurance plan: die soon.

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