I don’t know about you but I remember my federal government classes in high school (and grade school for that matter). I even remember a cute little commercial by School House Rocks talking about how a bill becomes a law. Under the U.S. Constitution a bill has to pass both the House and Senate to become law. Until this week, that is, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi is moving to merely “deem” that the House has passed the Senate health-care bill and then send it to President Barack Hussein Obama to sign anyway.
Under the “reconciliation” process, the House is supposed to approve the Senate’s Christmas Eve bill and then use “sidecar” amendments to fix the things it doesn’t like. Those amendments would then go to the Senate under rules that would let Democrats pass them while avoiding the ordinary 60-vote threshold for passing major legislation. This alone is an abuse of traditional Senate process but is not truly unconstitutional as it is only Senate “rules” and not constitutional law.
But Pelosi fears she lacks the votes in the House to pass an identical Senate bill, even with the promise of these reconciliation fixes. House Members hate the thought of going on record voting for Harry Reid’s Cornhusker kickback and other special-interest bribes that Reid added to get this mess through the Senate, as well as the new tax on high-cost insurance plans that Big Labor hates.
So at the request of Pelosi, New York Democrat Louise Slaughter, the chair of the House Rules Committee, may insert what’s known as a “self-executing rule.” Under this procedural ruse, the House would then vote only once on the reconciliation corrections, but not on the underlying Senate bill. If those reconciliation corrections pass, the self-executing rule would say that the Senate bill is presumptively approved by the House—even without a formal up-or-down vote on the actual words of the Senate bill.
Democrats would then send the Senate bill to President Obama for his signature even as they claimed to oppose the same Senate bill. They would be declaring themselves to be for and against the Senate bill in the same vote. Even John Kerry never went that far with his Iraq war flip-flops!
This two-votes-in-one gambit is a brazen affront to the plain language of the Constitution, which is intended to require democratic accountability. Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution says that in order for a “Bill” to “become a Law,” it “shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate.” This is why the House and Senate typically have a conference committee to work out differences in what each body passes.
If Congress can now decide that the House can vote for one bill and the Senate can vote for another, and the final result can be some arbitrary hybrid, then we have abandoned one of Madison’s core checks and balances. As long as one party is in power in both houses and the Executive branch then legislation can simply be rammed through by the party leadership.
We have entered a political wonderland, where the rules are whatever Democrats say they are. Mrs. Pelosi and the White House are resorting to these abuses because their bill is so unpopular that a majority even of their own party doesn’t want to vote for it. Fence-sitting Members are being threatened with primary challengers, a withdrawal of union support and of course ostracism.
Democrats are, literally, consuming their own majority for the sake of imposing new taxes, regulations and entitlements that the public has roundly rejected but that they believe will be the crowning achievement of the welfare state. They are also leaving behind a procedural bloody trail that will fuel public fury and make such a vast change of law seem illegitimate to millions of Americans.
The concoction has become so toxic that even Mrs. Pelosi isn’t bothering to defend the merits anymore, saying instead last week that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Or rather, “deeming” to have passed it.