By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Usually it takes years for the political parties to flip and flop on the politics of process (see Republicans and reconciliation or Democrats and self-executing rules), but the frenetic final days of the healthcare debate have brought Democrats and Republicans to states of legislative cognitive dissonance. Both sides are now simultaneously for and against that elusive political action, the "up or down vote."
First Democrats were for it. Faced with a Republican filibuster in the Senate which would have required a revised version of the healthcare bill to pass with an unachievable 60 votes, Democrats started talking up the virtues of a simple up or down vote on the bill. (Never mind that "an up or down vote" was originally a GOP talking point from 2005, referring to judicial appointments, when Democrats were wielding the filibuster.) The "up or down" phrase became a staple of President Obama's closing healthcare argument, defending Democratic plans to use reconciliation to smooth the process of passing the health reform bill--though of course the Senate vote to which he was referring would actually not be on the bill itself but a subsequent corrections measure.
Filibustering Republicans were firmly opposed to their once beloved up or down vote ... right up until House Majority Whip Eric Cantor started demanding that Pelosi hold an up or down vote on the Senate bill in the House, rather than using the aforementioned self-executing rule to "deem" it passed so that the House can get on to the more politically palatable correction of that legislation. It seems that the very last thing Pelosi wants is an up or down vote on the politically unpopular Senate bill. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs artfully danced today around whether "deem and pass" would qualify as "up or down."
Of course, as Josh Marshall points out, if the Republicans would only allow an "up or down vote" in the Senate, it wouldn't be an issue in the House.
Ain't politics grand?
Update: The American Enterprise Institute's Norm Ornstein, a certified congressional expert but no liberal, puts current GOP hypocrisy into perspective, writing that he can't "recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now" from Republicans and their media allies over reconciliation and "deem and pass." The GOP used self-executing rules 35 times in 2005-2006 alone (the last time the Republicans ran the House). Back then Democrats sued to end the practice and the GOP defended it in court. Ornstein asks: "Is there no shame any more?" Well ... no.