Thursday, March 11, 2010

How to pass a bill without voting on it

I knew that congressional rules were quite abstruse, but this is a new one on me and was wrong before to say that Louise Slaughter's idea was extra-constitutional. Daniel Foster explains how the Slaughter strategy would work to allow the House to pass the sidecar reconciliationist language without ever having to vote on the Senate bill. Foster refers us to the Rules Committee book. She wants to use a self-executing rule.
Definition of “Self-Executing” Rule. One of the newer types is called a “selfexecuting” rule; it embodies a “two-for-one” procedure. This means that when the House adopts a rule it also simultaneously agrees to dispose of a separate matter, which is specified in the rule itself. For instance, self-executing rules may stipulate that a discrete
policy proposal is deemed to have passed the House and been incorporated in the bill to be taken up. The effect: neither in the House nor in the Committee of the Whole will lawmakers have an opportunity to amend or to vote separately on the “self-executed” provision. It was automatically agreed to when the House passed the rule. Rules of this sort contain customary, or “boilerplate,” language, such as: “The amendment printed in [section 2 of this resolution or in part 1 of the report of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution] shall be considered as adopted in the House and in the Committee of the Whole.”
Got that? Apparently, this was the procedure used last year to pass and the Rules Committee cites other examples when it's been used.

The advantage to the House Democrats would be that they could use this procedure and then never have to cast a controversial vote for the Senate bill. They could vote for the amendments but not the bill. John Dickerson explains why this would be attractive to the House Democrats.
This approach would serve two purposes. First, Democrats who think the Senate bill doesn't sufficiently limit abortion rights would never have to be on record as having voted for it. (Because the Senate abortion language can't be fixed in Bill B for procedural reasons, some Democratic aides say there is talk about a later bill that would handle these issues.) Second, if the Senate didn't fulfill its end of the bargain by voting on Bill B—remember, it's already passed Bill A—then House Democrats would be able to say: I never voted for that crummy Bill A. In fact, I only voted for that nifty Bill B to fix it.
Just amazing.

The question is whether weasly Democrats would be willing to use such a procedure to enact this unpopular huge and expensive new entitlement and remake everyone's health care policies without ever casting a vote on what is actually in the bill. Will they be able to get away with claiming to have voted against it without ever voting for it play with a public that is very engaged on this issue. They can explain the self-executing rule till they're blue in the face to their constituents, but it will sound just like what it is - a rule trick to avoid doing what they were sent there to do - take tough votes. It would seem like a sneaky evasion of responsibility to pass a tremendously unpopular bill. And that is exactly what it would be. The President claims to just want an "up or down vote" on the bill. But I'm sure that he'll be quite happy to sign a bill that was passed without it even being voted on.

UPDATE: Jay Newton-Small writes in Time Magazine about the one possible roadblock to the Slaughter solution.
But, there's a problem with this strategy. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, whose committee reconciliation must go through, says it's impossible to do “fixes” on a bill that hasn't already been signed into law. In other words, the House must pass the Senate bill – Louisiana Purchase, Cornhusker Deal and other warts included (you can just imagine the TV ads House Republicans are gleefully contemplating) -- and send it to Obama for his signature before the Senate can take up reconciliation. Those sweetheart deals are meant to be stripped in reconciliation. House and Senate negotiators have appealed to the parliamentarians to decide who is right and a decision is expected this week.
I wouldn't put my faith in the parliamentarians, especially when the Senate knows that Joe Biden can overrule the Senate parliamentarian.