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A Benign View of the 'Slaughter' House Rule to Pass Obama-Care Without a Vote

While the Times contents itself with a blog post Tuesday portraying Pelosi's proposal as benign, The Washington Post takes the story seriously, putting it on the front page under a blunt headline: "Pelosi may try to pass health bill without vote."

Eternally optimistic, pro-Obama-care beat reporter David Herszenhorn's Tuesday morning post managed to make the desperate proposal by House Democrats to pass a massive federal expansion of health care entitlement spending without actually voting on the legislation sound like an innocuous procedural wrinkle: "Passing Health Care Legislation, Tucked in a Rule."

According to a plan by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House would vote on changes to the Senate-approved bill, which would then be "deemed" to have passed the House without actually being voted on in the House.

As they push for a climactic vote on major health care legislation, House Democratic leaders face a bit of a conundrum: rank-and-file lawmakers detest the Senate-passed health care bill, and yet before the Democrats' overall proposal becomes law, the House somehow has to find a way to approve that Senate bill.

The reason for that is simple: Democrats no longer control the 60 votes needed to stop Republican filibusters in the Senate, so passing a brand-new bill in both chambers is impossible. Instead, the House is planning to first adopt the Senate bill and then adopt a package of revisions to that bill in an expedited budget measure that cannot be filibustered and can be approved in the Senate by a simple majority.


Herszenhorn reduced the tactics of both sides to procedural maneuvers, though the idea of the House refusing to vote on such vast historic legislation would seem to at least possibly be unconstitutional. The Times doesn't even raise the possibility:

But this is Congress, where almost every procedural hurdle can be surmounted with another more complicated procedural maneuver. Or put in the parlance of our time: there is an app for that.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is eyeing a strategy by which the Democrats include the Senate bill in the rule that will set the terms of the House floor debate on the health care legislation. Once the rule is adopted, the Senate bill would be "deemed" to have passed without House members actually voting on it.

A rule to deem legislation as passed is used commonly in the House for various reasons, and there are a couple of possibilities as to when it could apply to the Senate bill. It could be as soon as the rule is adopted, or it could be upon adoption of the budget reconciliation measure that will include all of the revisions.

Either way, House Democrats would have voted on the rule, but they could make an argument that they did not vote in favor of the Senate-passed health plan. It's a distinction without a difference, and yet in American politics, it may mean all the difference in the world.


Herszenhorn looked at things from the Democratic angle:

Playing off the name of the rules committee chairwoman, Representative Louise Slaughter, Democrat of New York, Republicans have sought to portray the strategy as ominous by branding it the "Slaughter rule" and the "Slaughter solution."

But as the midterm elections approach, the Senate bill is not the bill that House Democrats want to say they supported. They want to say they supported the House health care bill, along with the changes in the reconciliation measure.


While the Times refuses to take the "Slaughter" House story seriously, Tim Graham at NewsBusters noted that The Washington Post made it front-page news, in a flawed story that at least had the virtue of a blunt headline, "Pelosi may try to pass health bill without vote." The Post also ran a mildly negative editorial on Pelosi's proposal.