Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. Here’s a brief guide to the health care final sprint (at least the schedule that we can predict) in the House over the next week:
This afternoon the fun will begin with an anticipated Congressional Budget Office score followed by* a House Budget Committee markup of the reconciliation amendments that will become the shell that the Senate bill will be added to as an amendment. Presumably, as soon as they’re done Chairman Spratt will go to the floor. As a privileged piece of legislation, he must deliver it directly to the floor where it’ll be numbered and reported out. Under House rules, the report takes two calendar days before it can be referred to the Rules Committee.
The House Democratic caucus meets as Dems whip for votes.
*Pelosi’s office said the CBO score is now expected Tuesday instead of Monday.
Once they have a bill, Dems need to post it online for at least 72 hours for members to review before a vote. They could post this Monday, but more likely it’ll be Tuesday. And it’ll probably be continuously tweaked as the bill is examined for potential Byrd Rule challenges, CBO scoring conflicts and other rules hiccups. This is not a House rule, but rather a Democratic caucus pledge, one that has been broken in the rush to vote in the past, so it’s up to the discretion of the leaders if they want to observe it. But, given that they need as much time as possible to whip votes it seems likely that the full 72 hours will be observed.
Michael Scherer tells me that Obama aides expect that the president will meet with Senate and House Dems at some point this week. Not sure where or when — I just put it in here as there was nothing else going on Wednesday and it seemed the most likely date.
The two-calendar-day reporting time expires and the Rules Committee can take up the bill. Traditionally, a rule takes one calendar day to ripen but past leaders both Republican and Democrat have gotten around that by including in the rule a provision that essentially declares that same day a whole new day (yes, this is White Rabbit time they’d be observing). If Speaker Pelosi chooses to she can bring up the vote Thursday, but again, she’ll need time to whip members so a vote on Friday or Saturday is more likely.
The 72 hours run out from when the bill is posted online.
Now, as to what they’ll be voting upon. As Kate points out TNR’s Jon Cohn outlined three possibilities on Saturday. On Sunday, the White House declared its preference for options one or two when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declared on Fox News Sunday, “We’ll have the votes when the House votes, I think within the next week. And I think whoever sits here this time next week, you all will be talking about health care reform not as a presidential proposal but as something that will soon be the law of the land.”
In other words: they don’t want to wait for the Senate to act – which would take another week minimum. They want President Obama to sign a bill into law before he leaves for Indonesia and Australia – this is, after all, why he postponed his trip. So this leaves us with options one and two. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is doing her best to save her members from one – a vote directly on the Senate bill – as she doesn’t want to further burden them with all the Senate sweetheart deals that are going to be stripped out in reconciliation any way. Which leaves option No. 2, the most likely one House aides told me.
The second option — that the House passes a rule that self-enacts the Senate bill, thus avoiding a direct vote on the Senate bill — has several sub-options, as David Dreier, the ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee, noted to reporters this afternoon. One, the rules simply self-enacts the bill and sends it to the President for his signature (not likely as Democrats have some significant changes they’d like to see made); two, they deem the bill self-enacted upon House passage of the reconciliation amendments (this would seem to be the White House preference); or three, they deem the bill passed when the Senate passes the reconciliation amendments (this is Cohn’s No. 3 and the preferred route of most House Democrats who innately distrust the Senate). “It is painful and troubling to see the gymnastics that Democrats are going through to avoid accountability on this bill,” Dreier told reporters.
To be fair, as Karen pointed out, Dreier is no stranger to self-executing rules. Dreier, though, defended his record saying there’s a big difference between self-executing amendments and self-enacting large pieces of legislation. A quick search of self-enacting rules finds that raising the debt ceiling is traditionally done under a self-enacting rule known as the Gephardt Rule, and the GOP pushed through the controversial $40 billion Deficit Reduction Act on a self-enacting rule. Still, Dreier argues, health care is 1/6th of the economy – by comparison an enormous bill not to have a straight vote on. Still, Dems says they have made no decisions yet and as they meet tonight — the first of what will surely be many meetings throughout the week — this will be one of the many topics they’ll be hashing out.
Pelosi hinted in a press conference just now that it’ll be option No. 2 saying the vote will be on reconciliation amendments, not on the Senate bill. And her office confirms to me that it’ll be some version of No. 2. When asked about potential promises of follow up bills to fix the abortion and immigration language in the Senate bill Pelosi, standing in front of about 20 children and their mothers — there to highlight the benefits children will reap in passing the bill — was terse. “No,” she said. “What we’re talking about here is passing this bill; it’s not about abortion, it’s not about immigration. The only reason therefore to oppose the bill is if you don’t support health care reform.”