The Truth About Self-Executing Rules

March 17, 2010 11:47 am ET

As the health care debate enters its final week, Republicans are amplifying their feigned outrage and hypocritical attacks.  After it was reported that House Democrats may pass a "self-executing rule" to combine the Senate bill and their budget "fix" into one floor vote, Republicans falsely asserted the majority was abusing their power by trying to pass health care without voting on it.  In reality, the self-executing rule would still require an up-or-down vote and has been used by Republicans dozens of times.

"Deem And Pass" Is An Up Or Down Vote

Ambinder: "They ARE Taking An Up Or Down Vote On The Senate Health Care Bill. They're Just Doing It AT THE SAME TIME As They're Passing The Reconciliation Language." On March 16, 2010, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote:

Yesterday, conservative jurist Michael McConnell argued that that Democrats are trying to finish the health care bill without voting on it.  Mitch McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate, intoned that Democrats claim they never voted for it even though they'll vote to send it to the president for a signature.
But that's wrong. House Democrats aren't doing that.

In fact, they ARE taking an up or down vote on the Senate health care bill. They're just doing it AT THE SAME TIME as they're passing the reconciliation language, which countermands several controversial provisions. That is: House Democrats still have to vote for the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback," and the "Gator Aid" provisions, but they're going to do so while simultaneously passing the reconciliation fix that removes them. The two bills will essentially be merged into one vote.

But it's still an up or down vote on health care -- one that Republicans can use to bash Democrats with if they want to, but one that Democrats hope will provide them with some political cover -- yes, they voted for the Senate bill, but they did so with its amendments attached.

Republicans really don't have much of a constitutional argument because the Constitution gives the House and the Senate the power to define its own rules. If "deeming" a Senate bill as passed is ruled to be the same thing as passing it, then the bill is "passed," constitutionally. [The Atlantic, 3/16/10; emphasis added]

Self-Executing Rules Have A Long History In House Procedure

Republicans Recently Used Similar Tactics For Large Deficit Reduction & Immigration Bills.  On March 16, 2010, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote, "it's unusual for Republicans to be bothered by the idea that controversial legislation ought to be subject to an up and down vote on its merits.  GOPers, endorsed by their own rules guru, Rep. David Dreier of California, have used the maneuver to pass legislation large and small -- including a $40 billion dollar deficit reduction bill. Dreier in 2005 used the tactic to allow Republicans to avoid having to take a recorded vote on an immigration measure. It's also a bit rich for Republicans to complain about a parliamentary tactic being employed in a way that's not in keeping with the spirit of the traditions of Congress." [The Atlantic, 3/16/10]

Republicans Are Hypocrites On Self-Executing Rules

Rep. Jim McDermott Discusses Republican Hypocrisy On "Deem and Pass." While speaking on the House Floor on March 17, 2010, Rep. Jim McDermott discussed Republicans' procedural hypocrisy on the House floor:


Conservative Scholar: "I Can't Recall A Level Of Feigned Indignation Nearly As Great As What We Are Seeing Now From Congressional Republicans." On March 16, 2010, American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman J. Ornstein wrote:

I can't recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news. It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of "deem and pass." That strategy, then decried by the House Democrats who are now using it, and now being called unconstitutional by WSJ editorialists, was defended by House Republicans in court (and upheld). Dreier used it for a $40 billion deficit reduction package so that his fellow GOPers could avoid an embarrassing vote on immigration. I don't like self-executing rules by either party-I prefer the "regular order"-so I am not going to say this is a great idea by the Democrats. But even so-is there no shame anymore? [American Enterprise Institute, 3/16/10]