Deemin' Nancy

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Democrats are facing a mini-revolt over Nancy Pelosi’s proposal to enact health care reform without an actual House vote. Use of the “deem and pass” rule, in which House members would avoid a direct vote by simply passing a rule on proposed changes to the Senate bill, touched off complaints from members who said it made it appear Democrats were trying to hide their vote.

Rep. Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is on the fence on health care, called it “wrong” and said he was hearing an earful from constituents. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a North Dakota Democrat, told fellow members he couldn’t defend use of the rule back home. Some senators are also scornful of the House’s profile in non-courage. “Any plan to approve major reform without actually voting on it won’t fly outside the beltway,” says Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln. “The House should vote on the senate health bill under normal rules.” Democratic Senator John Kerry walked up to a Senate staffer on the floor yesterday and said the prospect the House might avoid an up-or-down vote would be a disaster.

Then there are the Constitutional objections. “If I were advising somebody” on whether deem and pass would run into constitutional trouble, “I would say to them, ‘Don’t do it,'” Alan Morrison, who has litigated similar issues before the Supreme Court on behalf of the liberal group Public Citizen, told Politico.com. He pointed out that such a maneuver could run afoul of the Constitutional requirement that a bill must pass both houses of Congress with identical language.

But Democrats seem determined to march on. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called complaints about use of the procedure “a legislative process game.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was equally dismissive. “We talk a lot about process in this town,” he told reporters. “‘So what?’ says the American public.” But many of his members don’t share his sanguine attitude.

One House Democrat told me the “deem and pass” approach is being pushed by House liberals who hate the Senate bill and don’t want to admit voting for it. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, told ABC News: “I don’t need to see my colleagues vote for the Senate bill in the House. We don’t like the Senate bill. Why should we be forced to do that?”

The answer may be that the American people will find it hard to accept a bill this momentous being passed by what they view as subterfuge. “When I saw the House was contemplating doing this, I couldn’t believe it,” GOP Senator Susan Collins told me. “If in their arrogance they do this, they will be incinerated in the elections.” If that’s true, it would be a high political price to pay for allowing liberals the illusion of purity.

‘John Fund is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal’

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