The next act in the drive to pass ObamaCare is the mother-of-all political maneuvers — in which Democrats will use an incredibly convoluted and possibly unconstitutional process.
Things were already arcane: President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have been threatening to enact "health-care reform" through the narrow path of budget reconciliation. It's a ploy to allow the Senate to pass "reform" with just 51 votes — making the election of Scott Brown as the 41st senator against ObamaCare irrelevant.
To use reconciliation, Pelosi must first get House members to vote for the exact bill the Senate passed in December. That is, the House would "keep the process moving" so both the House and Senate could pass a second bill to fix things members don't like in the Senate measure.
But the speaker is having trouble rounding up the 216 votes she needs to get the Senate bill through the House. Her members rightly fear that the Senate might prove unwilling or unable to pass the "fixed" bill — and, at the least, would have a huge advantage in negotiations over just what "fixes" to make.
The problem is straight out of a 7th-grade civics class: If both houses of Congress pass identical bills, the bill can go to the president to be signed into law.
House members are being told that they must vote for the Senate bill as a procedural step. But the bill would then be only a presidential signature away from becoming law. That is, House members might end up voting for the Senate's Cornhusker Kickback, Louisiana Purchase, "Cadillac" tax, abortion coverage and other unpopular provisions — and then find it's all become law.
The risks are plain enough that Pelosi doesn't yet have the votes: Her members fear they'll be left hanging to defend their votes for the hated Senate bill.
So now Democratic leaders say they'll package a two-for-one vote: Moving the original Senate bill simultaneously with a "reconciliation" bill — thus, if the House votes for the bill of fixes, the main Senate bill will be deemed to also have passed. Then the reconciliation bill will go back to the Senate, where it only needs 50 votes (plus Vice President Joe Biden's) to pass.
Hmm. Nowhere in the US Constitution does it say that Congress can deem a bill to have passed. Pelosi & Co. aren't just making up policy as they go, but also procedure — possibly unconstitutional procedure, at that. All to enact a bill remaking a sixth of the US economy over the 3-1 opposition of the American people.
Published in the New York Post, March 10, 2010.