House may Slaughter Constitution’s rules

When it comes to critical legislation, Americans have a right to know how their representatives vote. But a sleight-of-hand maneuver being considered by House Democrats for health care reform could deprive Americans of that information. And it may run afoul of the Constitution in the process.

Regardless of one’s views on health care reform, all Americans should be appalled at this maneuver. We hope 3rd District Rep. John Salazar will have the political courage to oppose it.

The maneuver is being called “the Slaughter solution,” after New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, who proposed it as head of the House Rules Committee. It is tied to the other controversial measure — reconciliation — that Democrats may use in an attempt to pass health care reform.

Taken together, the two procedures create a legislative route to final passage so convoluted even experts have trouble following it.

Under reconciliation, the House must approve the health care bill passed by the Senate in December exactly as the Senate passed it. Then the president must sign it before it can be “reconciled,” through amendments to remove its most onerous provisions.

But those provisions — such as the infamous “Cornhusker kickback” included to win Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson’s vote — are so objectionable that many House Democrats refuse to vote for the Senate bill even if it is supposed to be amended later.

Hence the Slaughter proposal.

Under it, the House would vote only on the reconciled bill, the amended version of the Senate bill from which the most offensive provisions have been eliminated. In the same vote, the House would include language saying that the original Senate bill would be “deemed” to have passed so it could be sent to the president for his signature, and reconciliation could occur. As a result, citizens would have no way of knowing how their House representatives would have voted on the original Senate bill.

The reason for this trickery was made clear by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during an online discussion Monday. “I like it because people don’t have to vote on the Senate bill,” she said.

That is a fundamental breaking of trust with the American people — passing a major public-policy initiative in such a way that citizens don’t know how representatives voted.

Also, it is probably unconstitutional, said Michael W. McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. Writing in The Wall Street Journal Monday, McConnell said that under Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution, “no bill can become law unless it is put up for a public vote by both houses of Congress.”

If House Democrats proceed with the Slaughter plan, the very low esteem in which most Americans now hold Congress will justifiably diminish even further. And any reform that is passed will stand a good chance of being overturned through a constitutional challenge.


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