Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that she is still considering a legislative procedure that would allow the House of Representatives to pass health care reform without voting on the bill the Senate passed in December.
Under a maneuver known as a "self-executing rule," health care would be deemed to have passed once House members approve a package of fixes they want to make in the Senate bill. The House passed its own health care bill last November with 220 votes.
"We have several options available to us," Pelosi said when asked about the procedure. "We've asked the parliamentarian and the Rules Committee to tell us what our options are and they have given us some. I have told our members that until we see the substance from the CBO,we won't have an indication about how to go forward, but we want to know what our options are."
Republicans have excoriated Pelosi for considering the use of a self-executing rule for health care reform, but senior Democratic staffers have distributed talking points reminding their members that the procedure was established by Republicans in 1933 and has been used hundreds of times since then by both parties.
For example, when Republicans held the House majority under Newt Gingrich, self-executing rules were used for about 30 percent of the time to pass bills. Under Speaker Dennis Hastert, 22 percent of the rules were self-executing.
Pelosi said Republicans are just trying to divert attention from the details of health reform.
"If you don't want to talk about substance, talk about process," she said. "And if you want to talk about process, let's talk about the process that insurance companies use when they say to you if you become sick you're policy is canceled."
Although Pelosi opens herself to criticism for avoiding an up or down vote on the Senate bill, it may be her only choice. Pelosi admitted Tuesday that the Senate bill is unpopular with her members. "There are a lot of people who don't want to vote for it," she said.
Pelosi would not estimate when the House will take up the measure, saying she is waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to complete its cost evaluation of the final package. A CBO estimate was expected last week, but has been delayed as elements have been added and dropped.
Asked if she is "whipping" her members or asking them if they plan to vote for the bill, Pelosi said with a smile: "I never stop whipping. There is no beginning, there's no middle and there's no end."