Health-Care Reform’s Road Map Through the House
Updated 5:02 p.m.
By Ben Pershing
The health-care reform bill embarks on its final journey through the House this week, beginning Monday at the Budget Committee and ending, supporters hope, with a vote on final passage on the House floor by the weekend.
Though some elements of Democrats’ procedural strategy have yet to be decided, the basic plan is clear: The House will approve the same reform bill that was passed by the Senate in December and will vote on a package of amendments — dubbed the “reconciliation bill” after the budgetary process that will be used to create it — that would then need to be passed by the Senate.
Here is the three-step process expected to unfold this week:
Step 1 (Monday)
The House Budget Committee got the ball rolling Monday by approving, on a 21 to 16 vote, the reconciliation bill.
But that vote wasn’t on the actual changes to the health-care bill that Democrats want to make. Instead, the committee voted on what’s known as a “shell bill” — a measure whose contents will be erased later in the process and replaced with the guts of a new bill. Why? Because under the instructions written into last year’s budget, the reconciliation process must use a measure written no later than Oct. 15, 2009.
The Budget Committee is now considering a series of “motions to instruct” the Rules Committee — legislative recommendations from Republicans and Democrats that are totally symbolic and nonbinding, but can be used to score political points.
After the Budget Committee approves the reconciliation measure, the Rules Committee must wait at least two days before it takes up the bill, technically so members have time to review it.
Step 2 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Once the requisite two days have passed, the House Rules Committee begins the real work of creating the reconciliation bill.
That panel — on which Democrats have a 9 to 4 membership advantage — will swap out the old reconciliation language sent by the Budget Committee, substituting the actual amendments that have been crafted in consultation with Democratic leaders, chairmen and the White House.
The committee will also write a rule setting the terms of debate, likely choosing one of two options.
The first option would be to have a vote on the rule, then a vote on the original Senate bill and then a vote on the reconciliation bill.
The second option — dubbed the “Slaughter solution” after Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) — would use what’s called a “self-executing rule,” under which the House would “deem” the original Senate bill passed after the House votes on the rule for debate.
In other words, the House could pass the original Senate bill without lawmakers actually taking a stand-alone vote on it. Then the House would vote on the reconciliation measure.
Under either option, the House is also likely to vote on a Republican “motion to recommit” on the reconciliation measure, which would represent the GOP’s proposal for a substitute bill.
Step 3 (Friday/Saturday/Sunday?)
The House votes, following one of the two scenarios explained above. If the Senate bill passes (or is “deemed” passed by the House), then it goes to President Obama for his signature, regardless of what happens with the reconciliation bill.
If the reconciliation measure passes the House, then it goes to the Senate for a vote as early as next week. That chamber could pass the reconciliation bill as is, or it could amend the measure, sending it back to the House again.