This week will be the last stand for Obamacare, and the trickery that Speaker Pelosi is concocting to get the 2,700-page Senate bill through the House almost defies belief. It’s aptly called the “Slaughter Strategy,” after Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.), who chairs the House Rules Committee.
Under this scheme, House members would vote on a bill of amendments to the despised Senate bill, and the Senate bill would be “deemed” to have passed if this companion bill is approved. This is supposed to inoculate House members, who could say they never actually voted for the Senate bill.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has the best line: Last year, the House was passing bills without reading them. This year, they’re passing bills without voting on them.
If you pull out your copy of the U.S. Constitution, you will find that in Article 1, Section 7, it clearly states that the House and Senate have to pass a bill before it is sent to the president to be signed into law.
The Senate bill is the only realistic vehicle for passage of Obamacare, but so many House members hate various provisions in it that Pelosi can’t round up the necessary 216 votes unless there are major changes. Undecided members say they will buy into the Slaughter Strategy only if they get a guarantee that the Senate will absolutely, positively pass a second health-care reform bill that makes the original Senate bill more to their liking by getting rid of things like the Cornhusker Kickback. (The Louisiana Purchase, apparently, will stay in.)
The Slaughter Strategy would allow the Senate bill to be approved by the House via a “self-executing rule.” (These terms, straight out of a Dickens novel, may well describe what will happen to Democrats who try this.) It is not surprising that Pelosi lieutenant Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) has warned members to avoid any talk of the unconstitutional way they plan to pass the Senate bill.
The president has delayed his trip to Indonesia, presumably because the Senate parliamentarian has said the bill must be signed into law before the Senate can begin work on the bill of amendments. Will there be a big signing ceremony? Will House members show up to get their pictures taken as the president signs a bill they despise? Or will there be a stealth signing of the president’s signature domestic-policy legislation?
After he signs, the president will leave the country, and then the process will begin to pass the second health-care reform bill in the Senate. The legislation must go through committee before it comes to the floor for what surely will be a protracted and painful process and set of votes.
There is one simple fact behind all these bizarre contortions of the legislative process: The House completely distrusts the Senate. The House has passed nearly 300 bills that are stuck in the Senate. But House members are told that this time will be different. The House must trust the Senate to wage and win an incredibly difficult battle to pass a second bill to fix the things in the first bill that the Senate approved but the House hates.
Senate Republicans can’t keep the Democrats from reaching the 51-vote threshold for passing measures through the budget-reconciliation process, but they can make sure that any provisions proposed for this process are thrown out unless they strictly adhere to its narrow rules. The bill of amendments likely will be turned into a Swiss cheese. And then Senate Democrats will be forced to take a series of painful votes as Republicans propose amendment after amendment to the bill.
What possible incentive would the Senate have to carry through with this tedious and troublesome maneuver once its own bill has been signed into law? If the Senate fails to do so, House members will be on the hook to defend their votes for all the special deals in the original Senate bill that have repulsed the American people.
The longer the debate goes, the more heat members take, and, as Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) says, “They just want this over.” But it will be far from over if the House approves the Senate bill. Whether House members vote directly for that bill or for a measure that “deems” it passed, they will still be on the hook for everything in it.
Their leadership should be asking, “Do you want to walk off this cliff yourself, or should I give you a shove?” For House members, the end result is likely to be the same. They are being asked to take a fall so the president can claim passage of a health overhaul bill the American people despise almost as much as House members do.
Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) gave the rallying cry for opponents in a speech this week: “This is a five-alarm fire! Think about the biggest battle you have ever fought and double your effort. This is the most important fight of our time!”
Published in National Review Online: Critical Condition, March 13, 2010.