House Democrats Contemplate Putting National Interest Ahead of Blind Devotion to Procedure

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"House Democrats Contemplate Putting National Interest Ahead of Blind Devotion to Procedure"

Rep John Larson (D-CT)

Rep John Larson (D-CT)

The draft health care legislation in the US House of Representatives has majority support on the Education & Labor Committee and it has majority support on the Ways & Means Committee and it’s very close to having majority support in the House as a whole. If you brought the bill to the floor, you could almost certainly round up the needed votes. But thus far, the presence of a small number of Blue Dog holdouts on the House Energy & Commerce Committee are holding it up. Under the circumstances, I’m both thrilled and surprised to see Jared Allen report in The Hill that Democratic leaders are considering the obvious solution to this problem:

House Democrats, still searching for a way to pass their healthcare bill before August, are considering bypassing the Energy and Commerce committee altogether, where the bill has stalled, and proceeding right to the floor.

“The preferable course would be to go through the committee,” Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) said Thursday night. “But all options will be on the table.”

Personally, I have absolutely no idea what would be “preferable” about going through the ordinary committee process. My life would be positively impacted by a good health care bill. It would be negatively impacted by a bad health care bill. It would also be negatively impacted by indefinite continuation of the status quo. Congressional procedure matters to me, like to all normal people, only insofar as it impacts the course of legislation. The “preferable” process is the process that results in good legislation.

Something a lot of progressive legislative leaders seem to have forgotten until this Congress actually got under way is that historically congressional procedure is a challenge to be surmounted when you want big change to happen. It’s not actually a fixed feature of the landscape that people “have to” accommodate themselves to. For years you couldn’t get a decent Civil Rights bill because segregationists controlled the Judiciary Committee that had jurisdiction. This problem was “solved” by just deciding to bypass the Judiciary Committee. When you decide you want to get things done, you find a way to get them done. Even the allegedly sacrosanct filibuster rule has been changed repeatedly over the years. The law is the law and the constitution is the constitution, but the rules of congressional procedure are not law. They’re internally made rules, they’re subject to change, and the criteria for a good set of rules is that you want rules that produce good legislation and good governance.

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