Quick Fact: Gerson claims Dems looking to pass “a law without a vote”
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson asserted that the Democrats are working “to achieve the congressional equivalent of the Immaculate Conception - a law without a vote” and that the self-executing rule would allow health care reform “to slip by the House.” In fact, the self-executing rule requires a majority vote in order to pass and, as the Post’s Ezra Klein has noted, “the effect” of passing it “is not any different than if Congress were to pass” the Senate’s health care “bill first and pass the reconciliation fixes after.”
From Michael Gerson’s March 17 Washington Post column:
As of this writing, a president who seems willing to interrupt prime-time programming on the slightest pretext has not scheduled a speech from the Oval Office to make his final health-reform appeal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is working her parliamentarians overtime to achieve the congressional equivalent of the Immaculate Conception — a law without a vote. One gets the impression that Democrats would prefer health reform to slip by the House in a procedural maneuver on a Friday night during the NCAA basketball tournament — which it might.
The most visible Democratic domestic priority of the past 40 years must be smuggled into law, lest too many Americans notice. Politicians claiming the idealism of saints have adopted the tactics of burglars. Victory, if it comes, will seem less like a parade than a heist.
FACT: Bill would not pass without majority vote on self-executing rule
Ezra Klein: “[V]ote on the reconciliation package functions as a vote on the Senate bill.” In a March 15 blog post, The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein explained that the self-executing vote “functions as a vote on the Senate bill” because “the House will pass the fixes under a rule that says the House ‘deems’ the Senate bill passed after the House passes the fixes.” Klein wrote:
Here’s how that will work: Rather than passing the Senate bill and then passing the fixes, the House will pass the fixes under a rule that says the House “deems” the Senate bill passed after the House passes the fixes.
The virtue of this, for Pelosi’s members, is that they don’t actually vote on the Senate bill. They only vote on the reconciliation package. But their vote on the reconciliation package functions as a vote on the Senate bill. The difference is semantic, but the bottom line is this: When the House votes on the reconciliation fixes, the Senate bill is passed, even if the Senate hasn’t voted on the reconciliation fixes, and even though the House never specifically voted on the Senate bill.
It’s a circuitous strategy born of necessity. Pelosi doesn’t have votes for the Senate bill without the reconciliation package. But the Senate parliamentarian said that the Senate bill must be signed into law before the reconciliation package can be signed into law. That removed Pelosi’s favored option of passing the reconciliation fixes before passing the Senate bill. So now the House will vote on reconciliation explicitly and the Senate bill implicitly, which is politically easier, even though the effect is not any different than if Congress were to pass the Senate bill first and pass the reconciliation fixes after.
CRS: Self-executing rule requires House’s approval. A 2006 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report makes clear that passage of a rule by the House is required for the “self-executing” rule to be adopted. From CRS:
Definition of “Self-Executing” Rule. One of the newer types is called a “self-executing” 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.”
Don Wolfensberger, former chief of staff for the House Rules Committee under Republicans, stated in a 2006 Roll Call column: “Almost every major bill must obtain a special rule, or resolution, from the Rules Committee permitting immediate floor consideration. The resolution also specifies the amount of general debate time and what amendments will be allowed. A special rule also may contain other bells, whistles, gizmos and gadgets. One of these optional attachments is a self-executing provision, which decrees a specified amendment to have been adopted upon the rule’s passage. In other words, once the House adopts the special rule it effectively has adopted the amendment before the bill has even been called up for consideration [emphasis added].”
CongressDaily: House would still have to vote on corrections to the Senate bill. NationalJournal.com’s CongressDaily reported (subscription required) that the rule would require that the “House approves a corrections bill that would make changes to the Senate version” for passage. From CongressDaily:
House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter is prepping to help usher the healthcare overhaul through the House and potentially avoid a direct vote on the Senate overhaul bill, the chairwoman said Tuesday.
Slaughter is weighing preparing a rule that would consider the Senate bill passed once the House approves a corrections bill that would make changes to the Senate version.