- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2010

House Democrats Tuesday defended the idea of tying together the Senate health care overhaul bill and a companion bill of repairs that could spare members from having to vote outright for the Senate’s tax on high-cost insurance plans and other contentious provisions.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said the public isn’t going to be worried about how Congress passed a bill, but rather what’s in the bill, and won’t differentiate between the procedural paths.

“Do you think any American is going to make a distinction?” he asked. “I don’t think any American, real American, out there is going to make a distinction between the two.”

Although specific plans to tie the bills together - using a procedure known as the “self-executing rule” - haven’t been announced, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a discussion with bloggers Monday that she liked the idea “because people don’t have to vote on the Senate bill.”

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Republicans called the potential use of the procedure another trick to circumvent the public and protect House Democrats at the ballot box in November.

“The majority plans to force the toxic Senate bill through the House under some controversial trick,” said Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio on the House floor. “There is no way to hide from this vote. It will be the biggest vote that most members ever cast. You can run, but you can’t hide.”

House Democrats don’t like the Senate’s tax on high-cost insurance plans, the infamous “Cornhusker Kickback” funding for Nebraska or tax subsidies they say are too paltry.

But the election of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown gave Republicans enough votes to filibuster a conference report, the traditional way the two chambers repair differences between their respective bills. That led Democrats to pursue rare procedural tools to pass President Obama’s top legislative agenda item, requiring the House to pass the Senate bill and both chambers to pass a bill that repairs it.

Democrats said Tuesday that they were still working on compiling the 216 votes they need to pass the bills, but hoped to do so by the weekend.

While the move may help corral votes for the plan among nervous Democrats, lawmakers will still have to vote on whether to tie the bills together. It’s a vote that’s likely to show up in campaign ads in swing districts during the fall’s midterm elections.

The hubbub over the rule comes just as Senate Democrats plan to pass the companion bill through their chamber under reconciliation rules, another procedure that traditionally doesn’t get much attention outside of the Beltway but recently has stirred groups that oppose the reform bill.

Recent polls show the public is frustrated with the intensely partisan debate as well as what they consider backroom deals targeted at specific states in exchange for votes.

Republicans said tying the bills would prevent a clean up-and-down vote on the health care plan. They also questioned whether the move would violate the U.S. Constitution, which says all laws must be passed by both chambers of Congress.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat and chairman of the Rules Committee, which would write the rule, defended the move.

“There’s no way in the world we’d do anything unconstitutional,” she told reporters.

Republicans nicknamed the procedure the “Slaughter Solution” after the chairman.

The self-executing rule has been used before. It was first used in the 1930s by a Democratic speaker of the House and was used over the decades on fairly minor procedures or legislation, such as changing the country’s debt ceiling.

It was used in 1996 to increase the amount of money seniors can earn without losing their Social Security benefits and in 1993 on the Family and Medical Leave Act.

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