By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Democrats are reportedly pondering a parliamentary trick in the House by which they would pass the Senate version of the healthcare bill without actually voting on it. According to Ezra Klein, Nancy Pelosi is going with a "deem and pass" strategy: "Rather than passing the Senate bill and then passing the fixes, the House will pass the fixes under a rule that says the House 'deems' the Senate bill passed after the House passes the fixes." This way House Democrats unhappy with the Senate bill and apprehensive about defending it on the campaign trail would not technically be on record as having voted for it. Call it "Healthcare Wars: The Phantom Passage."
Seriously? Apparently so.
Look, I'm for anything--within the rules--that will get 216 "aye" votes for the Senate bill this weekend, so if this is what wavering members need, then fine. (Honestly the idea of something being "deemed" passed sounds hugely sketchy, but Roll Call quotes the top Republican on Rules as conceding--with teeth-gnashing and the now standard cries of "unprecedented"--that it's been done before and can be done in this case.)
But do swing Democrats really think this well help them? As Klein notes, "their vote on the reconciliation package functions as a vote on the Senate bill."
Do House members really think that their constituents will see the distinction? Do they think that voters would punish separate votes for the health bill and for reconciliation but would be OK if those two votes were merged into one magical vote? Or more to the point that Republicans will concede the distinction? You can be sure that this trick will change nothing about the GOP attack ads coming in the fall except the little footnote at the bottom of the screen citing the reconciliation vote instead of the actual healthcare bill vote.
Are House members really planning on getting up before their voters and claiming with a straight face that they weren't voting to pass the healthcare bill when they cast a vote that passed the healthcare bill? Such legislative convolutions remind me of former Rep. Marjorie Margolies, a one-term Democrat from Pennsylvania who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Clinton budget package back in 1993. She had a very good three- or four-minute explanation of her vote, she wrote in 2008, but she got killed by the 30-second ads her opponents ran. But at least Margolies had the courage of her convictions. It also reminds me of John Kerry and I was for it before I was against it.
Greater nerve among swing Democrats would be nice, especially because one would think elected representatives should be able to defend the votes they cast (or, in this case, "cast"). But like I said, if this is what it takes to pass the thing let's do the deem-and-pass two step.