The House of Representatives passed Obama-care on Sunday, putting the nation on a train toward nationalization of health care. Chief political reporter Adam Nagourney took to the front page of that morning's Week in Review and asked: "Point of (Dis)order - Politicians turn to the rule book to win the health care battle. Do voters care?" The deem-and-pass maneuver, an unprecedented idea that was not finally dropped by the Democratic leadership until Saturday, would have enabled the House to pass the most intrusive, far-reaching legislation in decades without actually voting on it.
Nagourney purported not to see what the fuss was all about over mere "procedural stuff," and thought it surprising citizens would even get worked up about it (so much for journalistic concerns about an informed public!).
You could forgive Americans for being a little confused. At a moment when Congress is engaged in a crucial debate about overhauling the health care system, the talk from Washington is about self-executing rules, deem and pass, reconciliation, the Slaughter Rule, preliminary C.B.O. scores, final C.B.O. scores - not to mention filibusters, cloture votes, the Byrd Bath and supermajorities.
At the end of the day, it is fair to wonder whether Americans even care about these exhausting debates, much less follow them.
"I don't think procedural stuff really resonates with most Americans," said Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader. "It may add generally to their cynicism, but it is accomplishment - or lack of it - that matters much more."
Perhaps. Yet this yearlong debate may test the proposition that no one outside this city cares how the sausage is made. Indeed, as the midterm elections approach, Republicans are betting that process matters. A central part of their strategy has been to tangle the legislative works, resulting in both sides' resorting to the most arcane legislative maneuvers, displaying sausage-making at its grubbiest.
Nagourney issued a very mild rebuke to Democrat's unprecedented "deem-and-pass" proposal:
[Republican Sen. Scott] Brown was referring to House Democrats who were moving to pass the Senate health care bill over the weekend with a deem-and-pass maneuver, which means they would be voting on fixes to the Senate bill after agreeing that the vote would also serve to pass the Senate bill itself, something many Congressional Democrats were loath to do. (Got that?) Indeed, Democrats on Saturday dropped the deem-and-pass idea, presumably figuring that it might have been one legislative maneuver too many.
By contrast, the GOP had "managed to lock down the Senate" with innocuous, typical legislative tactics as filibusters and (gasp!) "parliamentary challenges."
But Democrats are hardly the only ones delving into the footnotes of the rule book. Republicans - who have managed to lock down the Senate for much of the year with the threat of a filibuster - are prepared to strike out core provisions in the final legislation, by proposing an array of time-consuming amendments, and employing parliamentary challenges.
Does anyone really care if the bill is posted on the Internet 72 hours before the vote? Or if Mr. Obama never fulfilled his pledge to conduct legislative negotiations in public? Or if a bill is passed with a simple majority or the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster?
Nagourney reduced Republican concerns to sloganeering, and continued to insist that incumbents in both parties are in trouble:
In the fall, Republicans may find that these voters respond to rallying cries like "reconciliation" and "deem and pass" as they once did to "gay marriage" and "abortion."....And as Congress prepared to slog through another weekend of convoluted legislative maneuvering, Mr. Trippi was not alone in suggesting that a backlash to Washington's business methods could splatter members of both parties this November.
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