The Strategy For Passing Health Care Reform

We’ve known the broad outlines of how the Congressional Democrats planned to pass health care reform for a while. The plan has been for the House to pass the bill already passed by the Senate in place of the original (superior ) House bill. Once both Houses of Congress have passed the same bill it can be sent to President Obama for his signature.

Many members of the House are unwilling, for good reason, to vote for the Senate bill without making some changes. The plan has been to make these changes by using budget reconciliation which only requires a majority vote to pass in the Senate. However, some Congressmen have been reluctant to vote for the Senate bill out of a fear that the fixes would not be made after the Senate bill was passed. Ezra Klein explains how they are going to solve these problems:

Rather than passing the Senate bill and then passing the fixes, the House will pass the fixes under a rule that says the House “deems” the Senate bill passed after the House passes the fixes.

The virtue of this, for Pelosi’s members, is that they don’t actually vote on the Senate bill. They only vote on the reconciliation package. But their vote on the reconciliation package functions as a vote on the Senate bill. The difference is semantic, but the bottom line is this: When the House votes on the reconciliation fixes, the Senate bill is passed, even if the Senate hasn’t voted on the reconciliation fixes, and even though the House never specifically voted on the Senate bill.

It’s a circuitous strategy born of necessity. Pelosi doesn’t have votes for the Senate bill without the reconciliation package. But the Senate parliamentarian said that the Senate bill must be signed into law before the reconciliation package can be signed into law. That removed Pelosi’s favored option of passing the reconciliation fixes before passing the Senate bill. So now the House will vote on reconciliation explicitly and the Senate bill implicitly, which is politically easier, even though the effect is not any different than if Congress were to pass the Senate bill first and pass the reconciliation fixes after. This is all about plausible deniability for House members who don’t want to vote for the Senate bill, although I doubt many voters will find the denials plausible.

The remaining questions are over the exact changes to be made to the Senate bill and whether there are enough votes in the House to pass this.