The Ultimate Cop-Out

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 16, 2010

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Think you’ve seen it all when it comes to the health care reform debate? Well, think again:

After laying the groundwork for a decisive vote this week on the Senate’s health-care bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Monday that she might attempt to pass the measure without having members vote on it.

Instead, Pelosi (D-Calif.) would rely on a procedural sleight of hand: The House would vote on a more popular package of fixes to the Senate bill; under the House rule for that vote, passage would signify that lawmakers “deem” the health-care bill to be passed.

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.

“It’s more insider and process-oriented than most people want to know,” the speaker 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.”

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.

“It’s very painful and troubling to see the gymnastics through which they are going to avoid accountability,” Rep. David Dreier (Calif.), the senior Republican on the House Rules Committee, told reporters. “And I hope very much that, at the end of the day, that if we are going to have a vote, we will have a clean up-or-down vote that will allow the American people to see who is supporting this Senate bill and who is not supporting this Senate bill.”

Members of Congress get paid a pretty nice salary in order to take tough votes. Now, apparently, they might be able to earn that paycheck while hiding from the voters.

This is a pretty appalling maneuver, to say the least. The cynicism involved in promoting it is mind-boggling. And while the story seems to indicate that there isn’t that much of a chance that this “self-executing rule” will be used to pass health care reform, the fact that it is even being considered ought to tell people what the Democratic leadership thinks of the democratic process.

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