The House Rules Committee will meet this afternoon to discuss what has been dubbed the “Slaughter Solution” to passage of the Senate health care bill. The precedent cited by Rules Chairman Louise Slaughter to justify the proposed maneuver (to “deem” passage of the Senate Health Care bill when in fact the bill has never been actually “passed”) simply does not support the planned manipulation of the House rules and may well violate the US Constitution.
As early as 1933 House rules were interpreted to permit House acceptance of Senate Amendments in a bill simultaneously with House passage of a Resolution on a separate matter. But that precedent clearly included House concurrence in (or “passage” of) the Senate Amendments. The new maneuver planned for this week’s health care bill is not designed to be an up or down vote on Senate Amendments to a bill or a bill itself. Instead the proposed Rule will “deem”, or pretend, that a Senate bill that will never have been in fact “passed”, was instead “deemed” to have been passed.
The United State’s Constitution says:
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States.
House precedents do allow more that one matter to be “passed” by the same vote. But a member’s vote in favor of the bill and the other matter is a simultaneous vote on both the merits and passage of both propositions.
Either the US House has had an actual vote to “pass” a bill, or it has not meet Constitutional requirements for a bill to become law. The House can not “deem” that a majority voted for a bill and simultaneously maintain that there was never actually a vote on the bill.
The House is ultimately the arbiter of its own internal Rules, but it cannot avoid Constitutional prerequisites for a bill to become law. Parliamentary slight of hand does not trump the US Constitution.
The Honorable Thomas C. Feeney is Senior Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.