Reform strategy keeps focus on process over policy
By Ben Pershing
Democrats' desire to shift the health-reform focus from process to policy may have to wait a bit longer, as House leaders are weighing a path to passage that ensures yet more debate over parliamentary procedure.
"Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday that she is considering a maneuver that would allow her Members to avoid a direct vote on the Senate health care bill later this week, sparking outrage from Republicans who accused her of trying to avoid accountability," Roll Call ledes, adding that Pelosi is mulling "a rule that would automatically enact the Senate bill without a separate vote when the reconciliation bill containing a series of 'fixes' is passed on the House floor. That would allow Democrats to avoid taking a difficult, separate vote on a Senate bill many dislike because it contains special deals for Nebraska, Florida, Louisiana and other states. Instead, Members could tout their vote for the larger package." The Washington Post reports: "The tactic -- known as a 'self-executing rule' or a 'deem and pass' -- has been commonly used, although never to pass legislation as momentous as the $875 billion health-care bill. It is one of three options that Pelosi said she is considering for a late-week House vote, but she added that she prefers it because it would politically protect lawmakers who are reluctant to publicly support the measure. ... Republicans quickly condemned the strategy, framing it as an effort to avoid responsibility for passing the legislation, and some suggested that Pelosi's plan would be unconstitutional."
USA Today notes that David Dreier argued the strategy "would amount to passing a sweeping piece of legislation without debate. 'She promised transparency,' Dreier said of Pelosi. 'They're working overtime to try to avoid it.' However, Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Mann said the 'deem and pass' move being contemplated by House Democrats is not that unusual and has been employed to handle 'difficult partisan issues,' such as the ban on smoking on domestic airline flights." In response to the GOP's criticisms, Democrats have been circulating this Time piece from the weekend, which begins, "The Slaughter Solution? Another name might be the Dreier Doctrine." The story quotes extensively from a 2006 Roll Call column to make the point that Republicans frequently used the same tactic when they were in charge and Dreier ran the Rules panel. Ezra Klein calls it "a circuitous strategy born of necessity. ... This is all about plausible deniability for House members who don't want to vote for the Senate bill, although I doubt many voters will find the denials plausible." Jonathan Cohn says he is similarly "baffled by this logic" on the part of Democratic lawmakers.
Even if the House just votes on a rule and not the Senate bill itself, Pelosi and company still need to round up 216 ayes. The Associated Press focuses on the lobbying: "Days away from a make-or-break vote on his health care overhaul, President Barack Obama is turning up the pressure as only presidents can, as Democratic leaders make a desperate scramble for votes. The president is wooing freshman Democrats in the Oval Office, holding at least two one-on-one sessions in the past few days that never appeared on his official schedule, according to aides to two lawmakers invited, Reps. Scott Murphy, D-N.Y., and Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla. Both voted "no" when the legislation passed the House on the first go-round last year, but now they're not ruling out siding with the president and Democratic leaders on what's expected to be a cliffhanger vote in the House later this week." The Los Angeles Times reports: "At a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, Pelosi urged her Democratic colleagues to get behind the sweeping healthcare overhaul, even if they had problems with individual parts of the plan. Consumer groups, labor unions, industry associations and business groups also intensified pressure on Democratic lawmakers who are on the fence. Many are facing a barrage of television ads in their districts, including a $10-million campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading critic." John Larson says "the votes are there" to pass the bill now.
Politico writes, "Instead of the typical wheeling and dealing to pick up much-needed support, Pelosi and her leadership team are warning members that the bill is final, and its language is set, so don't come seeking major changes or handouts for your district. Asked if she was willing to change the final legislation at the request of Democratic holdouts, the speaker said, 'No.' ... [T]his doesn't mean party leaders can't or won't court votes with the lure of provisions in future bills or campaign help from the president, but it indicates that House leaders plan to go to the floor with the reconciliation bill they have rather than making last-minute changes at the Rules Committee to attract more support." The Hill examines efforts to sway the Congressional Hispanic Caucus: "Democratic leaders are using a mixture of pressure and persuasion to get Hispanic Democrats in the 'yes' column when it comes to the vote on healthcare. ... Caucus members have threatened to withhold their votes because of Senate language in the healthcare bill that would prohibit illegal immigrants' buying healthcare coverage from the proposed health exchanges. ... [Charles Gonzalez] noted that at least a dozen members of the CHC are 'tied in knots' over the prospect of choosing between opening up avenues to health insurance to many of their constituents and supporting what they worry is a precedent-setting policy of immigrant discrimination."
At a campaign-style rally in Ohio Monday, the New York Times says "Obama sought to seal the deal with Congress and the American people Monday by focusing on a single patient: a self-employed cleaning woman who dropped her costly insurance plan and just discovered she has leukemia. ... The president sought to turn the debate away from politics by reminding his party that people's lives -- even more than politicians' electoral fortunes -- were at stake. He cast passing the health care bill as a critical test of Democrats' ability to govern." The Wall Street Journal points out that Obama "delivered his remarks at a rally in the district of Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who voted against an earlier version of the bill last fall because it wasn't liberal enough. Mr. Kucinich said last week that he was still opposed. But he took a ride with the president aboard Air Force One, and faces pressure to reconsider. ... Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, Mr. Biden hosted a fund-raiser for Rep. Steve Driehaus, a freshman Democrat. Mr. Driehaus voted for the House version of the overhaul last fall but is now on the fence. Mr. Biden largely avoided the topic of health care, but praised Mr. Driehaus's past support for the administration."
David Brooks laments that "once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity. We have a political culture in which the word 'reconciliation' has come to mean 'bitter division.' With increasing effectiveness, the system bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy. Noemie Emery writes: "A stranger moment in politics has seldom been seen. A vast expansion of government that affects every one of the country's 300-plus million inhabitants may be passed by a hair against fierce and fiercely repeated public opposition by a Congress that no longer speaks for its voters--most of whose members are angry and scared." Robert Reich hearkens back to 1994: "Today's Republican battle plan is exactly the same as it was sixteen years ago. In fact, it's been the same since President Obama assumed office. They never were serious about compromise. They were serious only about regaining power. From the start, Republicans have remembered the lesson of 1994. Now, as they prepare to vote, House Democrats should remember the lesson as well."
On financial reform, Bloomberg writes: "Christopher Dodd's plan for the biggest Wall Street regulatory overhaul since the 1930s drops provisions he sought in November and dilutes others as he seeks bipartisan support. The measure shelves a single regulator that would have stripped the Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. of bank-supervision roles, and a plan to hold brokers to the same fiduciary standard as investment advisers. ... The Connecticut Democrat's bill, based on a proposal by President Barack Obama last June, lets regulators oversee over- the-counter derivatives, forces hedge funds bigger than $100 million to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and empowers the Fed to force large firms to break up if they pose a 'grave threat' to the economy. Some critics said it didn't go far enough." The Wall Street Journal says Dodd's plan "would take sharp aim at big Wall Street banks, with provisions that would rein in profits, require more capital and tamp down executive compensation, likely exacerbating a political brawl between bankers and the White House. ... The bill's prospects remain unclear, and thus far it has no Republican support. Democrats are trying to generate momentum after months of attacks from Republicans and business groups who complained the overhaul push would kill jobs and weigh down a struggling economy. The Obama administration is expected to use the debate to pressure Republicans into either supporting the bill or appearing to side with the banks."
USA Today reports: "Political observers expressed doubts that the plan would become law, considering that Dodd, D-Conn., would need to win over Republican votes to get the 60 required to break a filibuster and ensure passage in the Senate." The Washington Post says "Liberals and conservatives, as well as financial lobbyists and consumer advocates, could each find elements of the new bill that appealed to them. Dodd backed off his initial vision for a standalone consumer protection agency, an idea rejected by Republicans and much of the financial industry. He instead agreed to house the agency within the Federal Reserve, though he vowed to preserve its independence. At the same time, he included provisions to rein in big banks and give shareholders of public companies more of a voice; both are measures that appeal to fellow Democrats. And yet, groups as disparate as the American Bankers Association and the activist Americans for Financial Reform found reason to voice displeasure with aspects of the far-reaching legislation."
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