House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sounded positive and upbeat about the prospects of health care reform passing the House at this morning’s briefing for progressive bloggers, telling the eleven of us gathered in her offices, “I have no intention of not passing this bill. Let me say it in a positive way: I have faith in my members that we will be passing this legislation.”
Pelosi laid out three different routes for moving forward with reform, stressing that she preferred the third option. “The Senate Parliamentarian has said that they can only go forward with reconciliation once the bill is the law,” Pelosi said in preface. “The three options we have are…”:
1. To have a rule that sets up a vote on the Senate bill and on reconciliation, in either order.
2. The second option is to have a rule that deems the Senate bill passed when we pass reconciliation. But that would be considered a vote on the Senate bill, and members are more comfortable with the third option.
3. But we haven’t made the final determination, but the one most people like best says that we pass a rule that’s just about taking up reconciliation. On passage of the reconciliation bill the Senate bill will be deemed “passed.”
“Or the third is: the vote is on the reconciliation bill. Upon its passage, the Senate bill is deemed passed. It’s more insider and process-oriented than most people want to know, but I like it because people don’t have to vote on the Senate bill,” Pelosi clarified. House members may not want to vote for the so-called “special deals” in the Senate health care bill, but it’s hard to see how anyone will understand the distinction. Republicans will smear vulnerable Democrats with the Senate bill and every member who votes for the reconciliation package will be seen as voting for the special deals in the Senate bill. There is just no avoiding that.
It’s also unclear that the parliamentarian actually ruled that lawmakers “can only go forward with reconciliation once the bill is the law.” Republican aides quickly publicized this interpretation to dissuade House members from trusting their Senate colleagues, but the parliamentarian “reportedly clarified his position to Senate aides, saying that the reconciliation bill could be written in a way that would not require Obama to sign the Senate bill into law before the reconciliation bill is voted on.” (Which is what Democrats were hoping to do in the first place.)
All in all, none of this is terribly important. Given that lawmakers have decided to pursue the reconciliation process, the Vice President should overrule the parliamentarian’s decision (if that was in fact his decision) and allow the Senate to pass the reconciliation bill before the House votes on the Senate’s legislation. Health care reform has always been a heavy lift, but if leadership feels that it must lighten the load with arcane rules to win over (comfort) certain members, then so be it. But they’re the only ones who care.