Critical Condition

Beware of Snakes

It’s bad enough that Senator Baucus and his committee refused to draft actual legislative language before voting on the “conceptual” proposal. But now we must keep the spotlight on the possibility of the Senate and House leadership using a slippery method of fast-tracking unpopular legislation.

As outlined by Politico, this scenario involves Senator Reid stripping an unrelated bill that is currently languishing in conference committee, and substituting in his preferred health-reform language cobbled together from the Baucus proposal and the Senate Health Committee bill. Once that bill comes out of “conference committee” it would then be voted on in the House and Senate without the opportunity for anyone to propose amendments. It would have to be an up or down vote, and a simple majority is all that would be needed in both houses before the bill is off to the president’s desk.

In my legislative experience throughout the years, I have sometimes seen this tricky maneuver used. In fact, these kinds of bills have a special name. They are called “snakes.”

What would the snake look like? As stated in a Heritage Foundation post:

Will it have the public option?. . . Will it force taxpayers to pay for abortions? How much will it cost? Nobody knows because this Vapor Bill does not even exist yet.

The only thing worse than a snake is an invisible and fast-moving snake. It is important to note that this is only one strategy that the leadership might or might not chose to pursue. If this snake does indeed bite the American people, it will be interesting to see whether they bite back in the voting booth.

— Dorinda C. Bordlee is senior counsel at Bioethics Defense Fund.