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Setting the Rules

March 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The House Committee on Rules meets at 10 a.m. ET today to craft the “rule” that will govern the big health care vote that is scheduled for Sunday in the House. The biggest question they’ll have to tackle will be whether to use a “self-executing rule,” which would allow the Democrats to deem the health care bill to be passed in the House without requiring them to take a stand-alone vote on it.

The self-executing rule could be used in two different ways. The first way would deem the health care bill to be approved by the House once the rule governing the debate of the budget reconciliation bill, which contains 153 pages of fixes to it, is passed by a majority vote of the House. The other option would be to craft a rule that deems the health care bill passed by the House once a majority of the House votes in favor of the reconciliation bill. The self-executing rule has been used hundreds of times over the years to pass legislation. It’s fairly standard practice, though this would probably be the most substantial piece of legislation ever passed with it.

Of course, the Rules Committee may also decide to require separate stand-alone votes on the health care bill and the budget reconciliation bill.

Besides the self-executing rule, the Rules Committee will have to decide on how to deal with amendments that have been offered to the bill. Most likely, the Democrats on teh Committee will push for a “closed rule,” that limits amendments from being offered on the floor. The Republicans have already proposed about 70 amendments (click here to see them all), but they are expected to be voted down in the committee one after another on party-lie votes; all Democrats voting “no” and all Republicans voting “yes.” Since the Democrats outnumber Republicans on the committee 9-4, no amendments are expected to be put in order for votes on the House floor Sunday.

The one big exception could be a “manager’s amendment” from Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8] to make last-minute tweaks to the bill, possibly in an effort to round up the final votes. Pelosi said on Friday that she had “a couple of technical changes that we need to make,” but she added that “there will be no further changes in the bill.” We’re going to watch closely to see exactly what Pelosi puts forth — we’ll report anything we hear on this blog as soon as we hear it.

The whole Rules Committee meeting (it’s going to be looonnngg) is going to be televised on C-SPAN 2. Stream it online here.

When the Rules Committee meeting is over, they will have produced and approved a House Resolution (an “H.Res.”) that provides for consideration of the Reconciliation Act of 2010, which is the package of changes to the Senate bill. That resolution will have to be voted on by the full House and either approved or rejected by a majority vote. So, no matter what, the health care bill will get an up-or-down vote on Sunday, either with the rule, with the budget reconciliation bill, or on its own. At this point, the distinction hardly matters — the rule governing debate of the bill will be opposed by health care reform proponents whether or not it deems the bill passed by the House.

The crew at OpenCongress will be here all weekend to keep you updated on what’s happening as this histoic bill moves closer and closer to the finish line. Subscribe to the RSS feed, or find us on your social networks — Twitter, Facebook, or Buzz. It’s going to be a crazy couple of days — don’t miss out on the drama.

Here are the links you need for drilling down into the details:

  • The Senate Health Care Bill (the foundation of health care reform) — H.R.3590, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
  • Budget Reconciliation Bill (package of fixes to Senate bill) — H.R.4872, Reconciliation Act of 2010
  • Full Text of Reconciliation Bill — read the full bill text, uniquely available here on OpenCongress as a page on the open Web (we had to manually rip the text from a .pdf document, and it’s still a bit messy, but readable).
  • Summary of Reconciliation Bill — How the bill would amend the Senate health care bill and how it would affect current law, in plain English.
  • The CBO Score — How the budget numbers of the final bill stack up against the previous iterations.


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