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The Big Misconception About "Deem and Pass"

Over at TNR, congressional expert Sarah Binder provides a very useful and detailed explanation of the procedures the House will go through this weekend in dealing with health reform. There will be (assuming things go as planned and Democrats have their votes) four separate votes: one on a Republican motion to recommit the rule for consideration of the reconciliation bill, one on the rule itself, one on a Republican motion to recommit the reconciliation bill, and one on the reconciliation bill. If the first or third motions pass, or the second or fourth votes fail to pass, health reform will have been defeated, at least for the moment if not forever.

But it's the vote on the rule that will (assuming the Rules Committee goes in the direction Speaker Pelosi has indicated is likely) "deem" the Senate health care bill as having been enacted. This "self-executing rule" is what all the yelling and screaming on the Right is about. But since everybody understands what's going on, it is fundamentaly erroneous to say that the House is trying to avoid a vote on the Senate bill. The vote on the rule is a vote on the Senate bill, and will have exactly the same effect as an explicit vote on the Senate bill, no more and no less.

That fact obviously does raise the question of why the House leadership is utilizing the "deem and pass strategy," since anyone voting for the rule is actually voting for the Senate bill. I can't answer that question, but presumably this basically meaningless distinction matters to at least one House Democrat. But in any event, the conservative charge that the House is going to enact the Senate bill without voting on it just isn't true, and is simply part of the fog Republicans are trying to spread over the fact that by the end of this process (again, if all goes as planned), majorities in both Houses will have twice approved health reform.

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I think there are House Democrats who are worried that if they vote separately on the Senate bill, their opponents will run ads accusing them of having "voted for" the Senate's "sleazy backroom deals" (Cornhusker Kickback, Louisiana Purchase, etc.), even if they voted five minutes later for a reconciliation bill overriding those provisions. With the self-executing rule, they can say they never voted for the backroom deals; they voted for a bill that undid them.

At this moment, some group called the "American Future Fund" is running ads on cable TV that word-associate "Cornhusker Kickback," "sleazy backroom deals" and "Nancy Pelosi" in a way that makes it look like Pelosi is *promoting* the Senate's deals rather than undoing them. The ad also slams Pelosi for proposing to push reform through "without a vote," i.e. for the very procedure that will keep the sleazy backroom deals from ever having the House of Representatives' approval even for five minutes. Which I guess means that if they want to lie, they'll lie anyway no matter how the votes are structured -- but I can see the logic of the Democrats' preference for voting only on a single final package.

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