Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.

‘Trust Me,’ the Senate Says to the House


Here’s the bottom line: For health reform to become law, House members will have to take a straight up or down vote on the hated, 2,700-page Senate bill.

And they have to trust that the Senate will wage and win an incredibly difficult battle to pass a totally separate second health-reform bill to amend the original bill.

The swirl of controversy and complexity over the “reconciliation package” has continued all week, kicking up a totally unnecessary dust storm of confusion to obscure this simple process.

It’s straight out of seventh-grade civics class: If the House passes the Senate bill, the president will sign it, and Obamacare will be the law of the land, whether or not the Senate gets around to passing a second health-reform bill. This simple fact seems to be eluding too many people who are tangled up in trying to understand and explain the complexities of the budget reconciliation process and parliamentary procedure.

AP reported today: “White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that if the Senate bill is cleared by the House and reaches Obama’s desk, he’ll sign it.”

The Senate Parliamentarian ruled today that is what must happen before the Senate can consider a second bill to amend Obamacare.

Speaker Pelosi is trying to line up 216 votes in the House to pass the Senate bill as is. There is no “reconciliation package.” That would assume some normalcy to the legislative process — like a conference committee you learned about in civics. They aren’t doing that.

The Senate plans to use the process designed for budget reconciliation to get past normal Senate rules that require 60 votes to pass a law. This ultra-partisan process would be used to consider a totally separate bill that no one has seen yet but which is supposed to fix some of the many problems the House has with the Senate bill.

The operable term here is “trust me.”

“The House has a right to be skeptical,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) told reporters. The House has passed almost 300 bills that are “somewhere lost in the Senate,” he said. That includes such things as cap-and-trade legislation that the Senate apparently has no intention of bringing to a vote.

But this time, the House will have to believe that the Senate will come through for them and pass a second health-care bill to amend problems with the first one.

This reminds me of a line from one of my favorite country and western songs: “Just give me one more last chance.”

Senate Republicans have signed a pledge that they are going to hold the leadership to a very strict interpretation of what will be allowed to pass the Senate through the narrow budget reconciliation pipeline.  They don’t have enough votes to impact the 51-vote threshold for passing the measure or amendments, but they can make sure that any provisions are thrown out unless they strictly adhere to the rules.

Abortion language won’t clear the hurdle, and it became clear today that the House is not even going to try to fix the liberal abortion language in the Senate bill. That means Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) and other strong pro-life Democrats will have a very, very difficult time voting for the Senate bill because it clearly allows abortion coverage in federally-funded health plans.

That also means House members are going to have to trust that the Senate will get them off the hook for their votes on the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, and any number of other special protections won to get the votes of senators from Michigan, Florida, and other states and which even President Obama has repudiated.  But the president doesn’t have a vote in the Senate anymore. That means the pork likely stays in the bill, and House members will be on the hook, likely forever, to defend their votes. 

Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to explain the truth, clearly saying that passing the Senate bill through the House is the main event: “The reconciliation bill now under consideration would not be the vehicle for comprehensive reform — that bill already passed outside of reconciliation with 60 votes,” Reid wrote on Thursday in a letter to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. That is, 60 votes before Sen. Scott Brown came along.

Reconciliation is irrelevant and is only a process, not a bill! The confusion comes from the double-entendre of the word: Even House members are being told that their leadership is working out a reconciliation package as though it was a merger of the House and Senate bills.

But it is not. Reconciliation is the process through which the Senate may — or may not — pass a totally separate, second piece of health-reform legislation that would attempt to address some but surely not all of the House’s problems with the Senate bill. 

It would be a long and painful debate in the Senate. 

But trust me! They’ll do it. If only the House votes first. To pass the Senate bill.

Want to buy a bridge, anyone?


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