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Pelosi Explains the Way Forward

It looks like the coming House vote on health care reform will be the decisive one after all.

As of this weekend, sources including House leadership aides indicated that the House might pass health care reform under a special procedure, effectively making enactment of the legislation contingent upon the Senate passing amendments to its original bill. Some House members favor this approach because they don't trust the Senate and don't like the Senate bill. But under this approach, the fate of reform would remain uncertain until the Senate acted on those amendments, dragging out the process days if not weeks and giving Republicans all sorts of opportunities to delay a vote.

Apparently that idea is no longer under discussion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking Monday morning at a round-table discussion with bloggers and journalists, indicated the leadership had ruled out that approach. The reason, she said, was the Senate Parliamentarian, who had made it impractical to pass amendments to a bill that wasn't yet signed into law.

I'm still not entirely certain what the Parliamentarian said; all of the accounts have been second hand. But the bottom line is clear: If and when the House votes on health care reform, the underlying Senate bill--the one that does most of the work of reform--will be ready for presidential signature. And that's a good thing.

Of course, still unclear is whether the House will vote on the Senate bill and its amendments separately, or whether it will simply vote on the amendments in a way that "deems" the Senate bill passed. Pelosi said the latter was her preference, because her members don't want to vote for the Senate bill directly if they can avoid it.

I remain baffled by this logic, for reasons Ezra Klein laid out very nicely today:

No one cares whether the House passed the bill or "deemed" the bill passed. People don't pay attention to whether you voted using the passive voice or not. But by falling back on this bizarre locution, the House signals to voters that it thinks it's passing a bad bill. Some members of the House may indeed think that. I disagree with them. But for their own sake, if they're going to let this bill become law, they'd better pretend they agree to me.
Imagine the ads. "My opponent thought the health bill such a bad piece of legislation that he wouldn't even vote for it. But nor was he brave enough to stand up to Nancy Pelosi and say no! Vote for the guy who's not a wimp." And what's our hypothetical House members response? "No, you don't understand. I only refused to vote yes or no because I was hoping to pass a small package of amendments and was worried that the Senate wouldn't act on them fast enough?" You have to be kidding me.

Of course, it's entirely possible Pelosi favors this largely because her caucus is demanding it. And if Pelosi thinks this step is necessary for getting the bill through the House, it may well be.