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Why It's Senseless for the GOP to Whine About "Self-Executing" Rules

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For a while, Republicans were awfully worked up about using the reconciliation process to pass a health-care related budget fix, despite the GOP's repeated use of the same procedure. Now Republicans are headed for the fainting couch over use of the self-executing rule, despite the GOP's repeated reliance on the same procedure.

After laying the groundwork for a decisive vote this week on the Senate's health-care bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Monday that she might attempt to pass the measure without having members vote on it.

Instead, Pelosi (D-Calif.) would rely on a procedural sleight of hand: The House would vote on a more popular package of fixes to the Senate bill; under the House rule for that vote, passage would signify that lawmakers "deem" the health-care bill to be passed.

The tactic -- known as a "self-executing rule" or a "deem and pass" -- has been commonly used, although never to pass legislation as momentous as the $875 billion health-care bill.

We talked yesterday about how this would work. In a nutshell, the House would vote once -- approving the sidecar measure and "deeming" the Senate bill as having passed. The Senate bill would then head to the White House for a signature, while the budget fix would head to the Senate.

As expected, the responding tantrum is nearing full force. The WSJ editorial page is outraged; Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is suggesting laws approved through the self-executing rule aren't laws that Americans have to follow; and assorted GOP voices, on and off the Hill, are characterizing the deem-and-pass approach as unconstitutional.

Of particular interest were complaints from Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Rules Committee, who called use of the self-executing rule " very painful and troubling." It's interesting -- Dreier found the rule neither painful nor troubling when he used it in 2006.

Indeed, while the deem-and-pass approach used to be rare, its use became far more common 15 years ago -- right after Republicans took over Congress. Don Wolfensberger, former chief of staff for the House Rules Committee under Republicans, explained in a column a few years ago, "When Republicans took power in 1995, they soon lost their aversion to self-executing rules and proceeded to set new records under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)."

It's a familiar pattern -- Republicans open doors, and then whine incessantly when Democrats walk through them.