Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Another procedural twist possible for health reform

The clock on health reform is now ticking and some reports indicate that a vote could come by this weekend. However, potentially even bigger news is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is said to be considering using the “deemed without passage” or “self-executing rule” to get health reform legislation completed. At this point, Democratic leaders haven’t made the final decision on whether to use this legislative tactic but it is said to be one of three options they are considering.

Right about now, you might be wondering exactly what “deemed without passage” involves. Let me tell you, before I looked into it, I’d never heard of it either. I learned that some people call it the “Slaughter Rule,” named after New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, the chairperson of the House Rules Committee. I’m not sure that clarifies anything because, personally, I always thought the “slaughter rule” is what softball umpires invoke when one team is clobbering the other, say by a score of 15 to 5. In politics, however, that’s not the case. Still confused? You’re not alone.

Though some are claiming, erroneously, that “deemed without passage” means that the House does not need to vote, apparently, that is untrue. “Deemed without passage,” more formally known as the “self-executing rule” is a parliamentary procedure that does not require a direct vote, but rather an indirect vote. As describes it, “the health-care bill would be voted on INDIRECTLY, tucked into what's known as `the rule.’ The rule essentially outlines the rules for an upcoming vote -- in this case, it would be the vote on the package of reconciliation fixes.”

Even though you may not have heard of it, surprisingly, “deemed without passage” is not some rarely-used rule. In fact, the self-executing rule has been around since the 1970s, according to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, though it did not become more widely used until the 1980s and 1990s. During the 104th and 105th Congresses (1995 to 1998), for example, there were 38 and then 52 self-executing rules.

The “self-executing rule” has been used to “enact significant substantive and sometimes controversial propositions,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) indicates. You might be somewhat familiar with the results. In 1989, the House used it to bar smoking on domestic flights of two hours or more. In 1996, it was used to incorporate a voluntary employee verification program, addressing the employment of illegal aliens. Then, in 1997, it was used to block the use of statistical sampling for the 2000 census.

That same CRS report on self-executing rules calls them “procedurally imaginative.” I’ll say they are. Just when we thought we’d seen everything in this year-long health reform debate, along comes something new to astonish us.

Stay tuned, the end really is in sight now.


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