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Understanding the 'self-executing rule'

By Kenneth W. Smith Jr.
As the House moves toward a vote on health-care legislation, one possible route to passage involves a procedural measure called a "self-executing rule," or "deem and pass." It would allow House members to pass the Senate's bill by voting not on the measure itself, but rather a "fixes package." Here's a look at the self-executing rule and its role in Congress:

What is it?
A self-executing rule, which exists only in the House, allows for a "two for one" procedure: When the House adopts such a rule, it simultaneously agrees to dispose of a separate matter, a "self-executed provision," which is specified in the rule itself.

According to a Congressional Research Service report, this basically means that lawmakers have no opportunity to amend or vote separately on the self-executed provision. It is automatically agreed to upon passage of a related measure.

So the procedural vote on the rule is often, but not always, to change the substance of the bill before it is even called up.

When did it originate?
The self-executing rule dates to the Great Depression. It was first used on March 16, 1933, in H.R. 2820 -- "To maintain the credit of the U.S. Government." (H.Res. 63).

When and how is it used?
Self-executing rules have been used by both parties throughout the years in a number of ways. One recent example is employing it to increase the federal debt ceiling.

These rules can be as minor as making a technical correction to a bill or as major as adopting an entirely new substitute for the measure. They can be used in all kinds of instances, such as saving time on debating and voting on a minor amendment, avoiding a politically embarrassing floor vote, and ensuring majority support and passage of a bill.

They have never been used to pass legislation as momentous as the $875.billion health-care package, however.

How much is it really used?
Of the 80 rules adopted by the current Congress, a third (26) have been self-executing rules.

What does it mean for the health-care legislation?
The self-executing rule is being considered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as one way to get a bill passed. Under that proposal, the House would prepare for a vote on a package of changes to the Senate measure by adopting a rule: Passage of the fixes signifies that lawmakers "deem" the underlying legislation to be passed.

"It's more insider and process-oriented than most people want to know," Pelosi said in a roundtable discussion with bloggers Monday. "But I like it," she said, "because people don't have to vote on the Senate bill."

SOURCES: House Rules Committee, Congressional Research Service, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, staff reports

By Kenneth W. Smith Jr.  |  March 17, 2010; 10:33 AM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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Comments

They can't be serious. Unless they're serious about handing Congress to the Republicans.

Posted by: kls1 | March 17, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Mattcliif wrote:
"... so somebody is going to have to explain to me how the Democrats are being misleading"

It is merely an effort to " remove special deals and kickbacks from the Senate bill", it does not actually remove them unless the Senate passes what is a bill acting like an amendment to the Senate bill.

They are trying to go "on record" as only supporting the amendments, though the reality of the situation is they are on records as supporting the bill and hoping they get the promises in their amendment.

The "final package" is actually TWO packages. The second "package" is contingent upon the Senate passing it, while the first "package" is passed no matter what the Senate does in the "self executing" situation discussed.

If both "packages" pass both houses of Congress they can all have credit for both, be it good or bad, as it is still a result of their votes. The deniability sought by using an unproven method to avoid a DIRECT vote really doesn't eliminate what their votes indicate they approved of.

If the House uses that method to pass the health care bill, and the Senate in turn does not pass the changes the House seeks, the outcome is limited to pleading IGNORANCE when they are asked how this happened ...or they can keep blaming Bush!


Posted by: kbp69 | March 17, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Smith does a wonderful job of describing various ways the "self executing rule" has been used and mentioning a "a Congressional Research Service report", so the effort shows some research on the topic.

However, it is absent record of any direct vote on an amendment as a method of "self executing" a BILL. The reason that could not be included is because it has never happened before. The exact process the House is presently trying has never been accomplished before.

The "self executing" action that resembles what the House is considering was on House Resolution 420, which was basically a direct vote on a new bill dropping an old one. Or, more precisely, a new bill that dropped a provision from the old bill, amending it.

The Rules Committee can legally pass any rule they want, BUT, that does not make the rule itself legal. It's just like how our Congress can pass any bill they want and our President can sign any bill into law that he wants, BUT those actions do not make the bills or laws legal, the text and the process both are required to accomplish that.

To his credit, Mr. Smith does point out how that "self executing rule" process has been used by both parties over the years, so keep in mind that what is good for the goose can be also good for the gander some day.

Any bill that is passed through Congress and signed into law by the President is open to be challenged in court, so ALL should be worried if both the bill and the process used to pass it are in question. While a percentage of "ALL" may like the results of the "self executing rule" being used to pass the health care bill soon (if it happens), the balance of "ALL" may use it tomorrow to pass something ONLY they like.

A Question To Consider;
If that health care bill is of such a benefit to ALL the citizens of this nation - what some are classifying as a right of the people - why would anyone jeopardize it by adding provisions and using procedures that could nullify it?

It's good to see somebody making an effort to inform the public just how the rules can and cannot work.

Thanks Mr. Smith!

Posted by: kbp69 | March 17, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a Beltway insider, so somebody is going to have to explain to me how the Democrats are being misleading. They are using this procedure to remove special deals and kickbacks from the Senate bill that are both distasteful and unpopular. They are doing so in a way that prevents them from going on record as supporting these provisions, which in fact they do not support. But they still are on record as supporting the final package, which is there for everyone to see.

Yet somehow the Democrats manage to frame all this in a way that not only fails to give them credit for getting rid of the offending provisions, but actually makes them look like the bad guys for hiding the ball. Huh?

Posted by: mattcliff | March 17, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Smith does a wonderful job of describing various ways the "self executing rule" has been used and mentioning "a Congressional Research Service report" in an apparent effort to add credibility to his summary of that process.

Read all closely, as he has avoided to point out any direct vote on an amendment as a method of "self executing" a BILL. The reason that was not included is because it has never happened before, so you can't point out a process the House is presently trying to replicate if it has never been accomplished before.

The ONLY "self executing" action that resembles what the House is considering was on House Resolution 420, which was basically a direct vote on a new bill dropping an old one. Or, more precisely, a new bill that dropped a provision from the old bill, amending it.

While that was never challenged in a court, we need to realize that does not make it legal by precedent. Violations which go without challenge do not make them legal, it just merely does not expose that they are illegal (or violate our Constitution).

Mr. Smith should also have mentioned that the Rules Committee can legally pass any rule they want, BUT, that does not make the rule itself legal. It's just like how our Congress can pass any bill they want and our President can sign any bill into law that he wants, BUT those actions do not make the bills or laws legal, the text and the process both are required to accomplish that.

To his credit, Mr. Smith does point out how that "self executing rule" process has been used by both parties over the years, so keep in mind that what is good for the goose can be also good for the gander some day.

Any bill that is passed through Congress and signed into law by the President is open to be challenged in court, so ALL should be worried if both the bill and the process used to pass it are in question. While a percentage of "ALL" may like the results of the "self executing rule" being used to pass the health care bill soon (if it happens), the balance of "ALL" may use it tomorrow to pass something ONLY they like.

A Question To Consider;
If that health care bill is of such a benefit to ALL the citizens of this nation - what some are classifying as a right of the people - why would anyone jeopardize it by adding provisions and using procedures that could nullify it?

Posted by: kbp69 | March 17, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

chuckey-el, you sound like just the kind of freeloader the Dems love. If you want me to support you, why don't you at least come over and mow my lawn, or give me whatever service guys like you enjoy.

Posted by: jhr1 | March 17, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm curious, if you nanny-staters expect me to take care of you, will you at least come mow my lawn or something?

Posted by: jhr1 | March 17, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

The problem is that liberals want everything for nothing. The government just should had out to people for nothing.
Instead of “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” the Democrats have become
“ Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you”

Posted by: Steve681 | March 17, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

PASS THE BILL NOW! Give all Americans healthcare!

The issues are all talked out. Any failings in the bill are due to the party of NO! NO! NO's lack of good faith negotiations and their putting political gain over what's good for America at every turn.

Better yet shove it up the war mongering, deficit creating, lying Republican butts as they shoved the war on Iraq and tax cuts for the rich down the throats of American tax payers.

Posted by: chucky-el | March 17, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Motogp46's listing of statistics regarding the use of deem and pass (self-executing rules) by both parties should give everyone a little perspective. Both parties use the available procedures (such as reconciliation and self-executing rules) to get their agenda passed. That's just politics and it's certainly not unethical. Republicans have used reconciliation and self-executing rules far more than Democrats and particularly so during the Bush years. For Republicans and their supporters to cry foul when Democrats do the same is ridiculous--and hollow given their track record using exactly the same procedures. So what you're really saying is that if Republilcans use the rules, they are patriots because they REALLY care about the country. But Democrats are socialists or brown shirts when they use the same procedures because they DON'T care about the country. It's hard to take that argument seriously.

Clearly this is a really big bill to pass under a procedural rule, but the compromise bill is very close to Senate bill which passed with 60 votes--and House objections to the Senate bill were based on it not going far enough. So it's not like any major provisions of the compromise bill haven't already passed muster in both chambers.

That said, I think Dems would be better served politically if they stood tall and give the compromise bill a straight up or down vote. They need to be prepared to defend this bill in November and they need to stop cowering in front the Republican lie machine. Hiding behind a procedural vote isn't going to fool anyone so they should stand up and be counted.

Posted by: McKDave | March 17, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

So now Republicuns want an "up or down vote?" Fine, why don't they step aside and simply let a majority vote occur? Go ahead and complain about "deeming" and "reconciliation," but what you're really opposing is a majority vote.

Republicuns simply oppose majority rule unless they're in the majority. That's it in a nutshell.

Posted by: jp1954 | March 17, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I'm curious, if you nanny-staters expect me to take care of you, will you at least come mow my lawn or something?

Posted by: jhr1 | March 17, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

This is why the American people are disgusted with our elected public officials.

Reconciliation, Deem and Pass and all these other tactics are disgusting.

It is time to take back our government and bring ethical behavior to Washington, and not the type of ethical behavior that Pelosi claimed she would install, which we have yet to see!

Posted by: mwhoke | March 17, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

"avoiding a politically embarrassing floor vote"

Exactly. Now the Democrats can for FOR the health care bill and then go out and tell voters that they didn't.

Very crooked. It should work with the Democratic base. I'm not sure the rest of us are going to fall for it though.

Posted by: ZZim | March 17, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Let's see. The Republicans have managed to tie the bill down for about a year. If it's time for Congress to move on (and it is), and if at least a plurality of Americans still favor health care reform (which is probably true and possibly worst case), deem and pass seems like a good way to break the logjam.

Saying that "the American people want us to start over" doesn't make it so. It's quite likely that the American people want this finished. Still, the Republicans act like petulant children. . .

Posted by: jlhare1 | March 17, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

The bad thing about the nanny-staters is they don't care what kind of country we live in as long as big brother takes care of them. A line from Ten Years After..I'd Love to Change the World are in order. "Tax the rich feed the poor till there are no rich no more. Tell me where is sanity?"

Posted by: jhr1 | March 17, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Call Congress and tell them to vote NO!

Posted by: JBfromFL | March 17, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

"Deem and Pass", reconsiliation, etc. Many liberals want to convince us that this is a normal way of doing business- even Republicans do it. However, seizing such a large part of the economy is NOT a normal process for Congress. To hide behind such cowardly actions does not leave me feeling Democrats have a clue to what they are unleashing.

Posted by: JohnnyGee | March 17, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Health care reform? FIRST, DO NO HARM. (See below):

ATTENTION HOMELAND SECURITY (Secret Service, FEMA) / FBI / PENTAGON / DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE / INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATORS-INSPECTORS GENERAL (also members of Congress and the Obama administration):

Your immediate attention is directed to the following articles and appended comments by veteran journalist Victor Livingston:

http://nowpublic.com/world/u-s-silently-tortures-americans-cell-tower-microwaves

http://nowpublic.com/world/gestapo-usa-govt-funded-vigilante-network-terrorizes-america

These articles expose serious government wrongdoing, including apparent crimes against humanity and the Constitution.

Many in government know about this -- and knowingly let it continue.

Corrective action is immediately required. Thank you.

Posted by: scrivener50 | March 17, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

When the Democrats controlled the House: From the 95th to 98th Congresses (1977-84), there were only eight self-executing rules making up just 1 percent of the 857 total rules granted. However, in Speaker Tip O'Neill's (D-Mass.) final term in the 99th Congress, there were 20 self-executing rules (12 percent). In Rep. Jim Wright's (D-Texas) only full term as Speaker, in the 100th Congress, there were 18 self-executing rules (17 percent). They reached a high point of 30 under Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.) during the final Democratic Congress, the 103rd, for 22 percent of all rules.

When Republicans took power in 1995: Under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). There were 38 and 52 self-executing rules in the 104th and 105th Congresses (1995-1998), making up 25 percent and 35 percent of all rules, respectively. Under Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) there were 40, 42 and 30 self-executing rules in the 106th, 107th and 108th Congresses (22 percent, 37 percent and 22 percent, respectively).

Posted by: motogp46 | March 17, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

"Self Executing"

It would be ideal if Slaughter and Pelosi did indeed self-execute.

Posted by: pgr88 | March 17, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Let's see, it's been around for 77 years and in only one half-session politburo types have used it a third of the time already? Let's throw them out before they 'Deem" brown shirts for their "citizens brigade".

Posted by: jhr1 | March 17, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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