Full Court Press on the Slaughter Rule

by Daniel Foster

Rep. David Dreier (R., Calif.), ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee, said the Slaughter Rule is evidence that Democrats cannot pass their bill “while playing by the rules.”

“With the Slaughter Solution, House Democrats have exposed themselves as willing to abandon the most fundamental element of legislating – a transparent, up-or-down vote— in order to achieve a unpopular partisan objective.  This is highly disturbing and in some ways, dangerous.  The American people do not want this health care bill and they certainly don’t want the democratic process turned on its head in an effort to pass it over their objections.”

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans are mounting a two-pronged attack to counter the increasingly byzantine procedural gambit the Democrats are developing to pass the health-care bill.

On the Senate side, Republicans have been remarkably forthright that their strategy is to show wavering House Democrats unhappy with the Senate bill that they cannot trust the upper house to fix it.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R., N.H.) told HuffPo today, “that his role now is to make skeptical House Democrats even more doubtful that the Senate can change the bill it passes using reconciliation. He insisted that tough votes on non-health care related topics are bound to come up,” and much as he did in conversation with NRO, “raised the specter that the reconciliation process will shut the Senate down.”

Asked by the Huffington Post if he was trying to stir uncertainty among Democrats, the New Hampshire Republican replied: “Absolutely. We are trying to open the eyes of our colleagues on the Democratic side who are being solicited with goodies that the boat into which all these goodies are being put may not ever come to dock.”

[. . .]

Should Democrats get beyond the starting gate, Gregg added, the Republican Party has a whole host of procedural hurdles that they will throw in the way. The senator told the gathering of reporters at the National Press Club that he and his colleagues will use arcane parliamentary processes to essentially force Senate Democrats to vote on controversial legislative topics, even if their relevance to the health care bill is ambiguous. Arguing that “everything in the jurisdiction” of the two Senate committees that handle health care — Finance and HELP — will be ruled “germane” to debate, he all but pledged to bring up “hot-button topics” like immigration, gun rights and certainly abortion as a means of forcing uncomfortable votes.

“Now you ask yourself, if you are a senator from the Democratic side of the aisle, do you really need to put yourself through this just to help out the president and the Democrats’ side of the aisle in the House when you already have gotten what you want…” he said.

“I think that’s a reach and it should cause questions for Democrats in the House.”

And Sens. Thune, DeMint, Coburn, and Wicker — all former House members — hit the “you can’t trust the Senate” theme over and over in a press conference yesterday:

For their part, House Republicans are raising hell about the Democrats’ last-ditch gambit to defuse the situation via the Slaughter Rule, warning undecided House Democrats that the procedural ploy won’t protect them.

Here’s part of the statement Republicans on the House Rules Committee released on the matter:

Not only would this be an astoundingly byzantine and cynical attempt to advance a bill that no one, including House Democrats, wants or likes, it could very well backfire.

The Slaughter Solution depends upon the Senate’s acting to pass a package of fixes to a bill that can’t garner sufficient support in the House.  But the likelihood a clean “fix-it” bill passing the Senate is slim.  There will be challenges to some proposed fixes, and therefore changes to the package.  There are also questions as to whether or not a bill can be “fixed” under the Budget Act before it is signed into law by the President.  And then there is the question of abortion.  If an abortion change cannot be made through reconciliation, would the Slaughter Solution be further expanded to implement an abortion fix, too?  How would that fix make its way through the Senate?

With serious unanswered questions like these, why would any wavering Democrat take the bait and support the Slaughter Solution?  There is a high probability that House Democrats ultimately will be forced into taking the tough votes they tried so hard to avoid, after putting themselves on record as supporting an end-run around a real, transparent vote.  In the end, rank-and-file Democrats would be making themselves all the more vulnerable for having supported their Leadership’s egregious tactics.

We’ll have to wait and see if rank-and-file Democrats buy the Republican argument, but at least one prominent supporter of Obamacare, The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn, seems to. He blogged this morning that “complication and delay seem dangerous. Given the widespread revulsion with legislative deal-making at this point–and the apparent success of Obama’s appeal for a “straight, up-or-down vote” on reform–crafting the rule to spare House members a certain vote seems quite likely to muddle the message.”

With the way forward for Democrats unclear and frought with peril, is it any wonder Harry Reid told reporters today that “We’re not done yet – and that’s an understatement”?

The Corner

The one and only.