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By Sarah Foster
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
December 19, 2009

WASHINGTON – It’s no secret that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will do whatever it takes to get his version of a health care reform bill through the Senate by Christmas, even it means forcing his colleagues to remain in town.

“We’re going to finish this health care bill before we leave here,” he said.

In tandem with Reid, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) promised, “If it costs us Christmas Eve, or costs us Christmas Day or even more, we cannot let the people of this country down.”

But Peter Sepp, Vice President of Communications for the National Taxpayers Union, wonders whether Reid’s and Durbin’s insistence on a Senate passage by Christmas isn’t a false flag planted to distract the public and even fellow lawmakers. He suggests that the immediate goal may be to move the bill not only through the Senate, but through the House and over to President Obama’s desk by Christmas morning.

Since the House has adjourned, this would require House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call the members back to the capital for an extraordinary session which she might be willing to do. The question is: would rank-and-file Democrats go along with her?

But first, Reid needs 60 votes to pass a motion for cloture to advance H.R. 3590: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which the Senate has been debating for the past three weeks. This 2,074-page monster measure, which Reid did not introduce until Nov. 19 and that did not go through the committee process, would completely change the health care system in this country, subjecting the medical and nursing professions, hospitals, insurance companies, and so on, to administrative micromanagement and central control. It would, in effect, nationalize the entire health care industry – which is 18 percent of the nation’s economy.

Reid is expected to file a motion for cloture very soon, possibly this weekend. If the 60 votes needed to close debate are there and the Senate votes Monday or Tuesday, a vote on the bill itself could come Wednesday or Thursday and need only 51 votes for passage.

In Sepp’s fast-paced scenario: “If the cloture vote wins on Monday it would be a simple thing for Harry Reid to give Nancy Pelosi a call and say, ‘Look. We’ve done all the heavy lifting. It’s just a matter of another day or two until we get it passed, so you better make plans to call your people back.’

”House members might be there ready and waiting for a passage vote literally an hour after the Senate does its job on Wednesday,” he said.

Legislative Hide-the-Ball

Such action would seem extreme, but it’s in line with tactics used by Democrats throughout this session to circumvent the committee process and advance the highly controversial bills demanded by the administration – the health care measure being one of them.

One popular game has been a kind of legislative hide-the-ball, where a bill is introduced, heard and passed in committee, only to be replaced with a mega-version – double the size or larger than the one that’s been under discussion – brought to the floor a few days or perhaps just hours before a scheduled vote.

As NewsWithViews has reported, this was the tactic Pelosi used to ram through the House both the cap-and-trade/climate change bill and, last week, The Wall Street Reform Act, touted as a financial services reform measure.


She used it as well for the House version of a health care bill. All summer, at Town Halls and Tea Parties across the country, the public focused on H.R. 3200 that Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) introduced in July but had never been sent to the floor. Then, on Oct. 29 Dingell introduced a second health care measure twice the size of H.R. 3200 and with a different number – H.R. 3962. Despite their protests, members were given only a little over a week to review and debate it before voting. It was a squeaker – 215-220, with every Republican voting no, except Rep. Anh Cao, a first-term member from Louisiana. Thirty-nine Democrats broke rank with their leadership to join the 176 Republicans in opposition.

Shell Game

Reid deployed a similar tactic in the Senate, but with a twist.

Throughout the summer and fall public attention was focused on a work-in-progress by Sen. Jim Baucus (D-Mont.), which he formally introduced Oct. 9 as S. 1796, America’s Healthy Future Act. This seemed to be the bill of choice until Reid, just before Thanksgiving, introduced his own version as a substitute.

Here’s the twist: Its number is H.R. 3590, and it is not a substitute for a Senate health care bill, but for a measure by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) on a completely unrelated topic that the House passed in early October. In its original form it was the Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009 – but Reid had that bill gutted and its contents replaced by health-care wording as an amendment. The Senate had to approve this – it’s called an amendment in the nature of a substitute.

Brian Darling, Director of Senate Relations at Heritage Foundation, discussed the strange disappearance of the Baucus bill with NewsWithViews.

“Well, it’s gone,” he said. “Harry Reid basically wrote his own bill. He took elements of the Baucus bill and elements of another bill passed in the Health Committee, but he basically wrote what he wanted into a bill, and that’s what they’re considering right now.

“It’s never had a hearing,” he said.

Darling explained that by using a measure already passed by the other chamber as a “shell” or “vehicle” a lawmaker can bypass committee hearings.

“It made it a lot easier,” he said. “Reid just wrote his own bill and rolled it out on the Senate floor. It’s been done in the past. You wouldn’t think it would be done on a bill with this high a profile, but he can do it because he used a parliamentary tactic to just roll the bill out.”

This involved the cloture votes in days before Thanksgiving, particularly that on Nov. 22. in which Republicans closed ranks and voted against Reid’s proposal that would limit debate on the floor. The vote was 60-39. Republican Senator Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio was present but abstained.

Normally, when a bill is passed by either chamber, it must go through the committee process on the other side. But this is not a normal bill and won’t have to go the normal route.

Darling explained that if the Senate passes H.R. 3590 this week no further committee hearings are required because technically it has already passed the House, even though it was a different bill.

“It would have to go back to the House for final approval,” said Darling, “and the House would have the opportunity to take it up intact and pass it without any changes and send it to the president.

“Or if they couldn’t stomach passing the Senate bill, then they can make amendments and pass it and send it back over to the Senate. That’s an alternative to doing the traditional conference of the bill in the House.”

End Game?

Neither Sepp nor Darling were willing to make a guess as to the fate of the bill. There is tremendous discord between Democrats over its various provisions, such as public option, federal funding for abortion, and other contentious issues. And Reid and other supporters know that time is not on their side.

“The more people find problems with the bill, the more they reject it,” said Sepp. “So [the Democrats] don’t let the American people have a significant opportunity to review it. They want to pass it quick before the American people get outraged and mad.”

He said it’s possible the bill will fail. “It’s very possible. The way things are going right now it doesn’t look good because the Democrats have all these amendments they’re trying to push – I don’t know. It’s very tough.”

Sepp pointed out that both Democrats and Republicans are exhausted, and wondered if this was the purpose in handling the legislation the way they did -- all the time blaming the Republicans for stall-tactics.

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“This may have been the deliberate end game all along,” Sepp surmised. “You can guess that there are more than a few Republicans who just want to spend Christmas with their families and forget about it all, and a lot of Democrats who will do anything to get this through. So the momentum may be with the Democrats if this goes so late into next week.”

Selected Earlier Stories

1 - Cliff Kincaid: Vatican Engineered Victory for Pelosicare. Nov. 10, 2009
2 - Cliff Kincaid: Catholic Bishops Help Pass Obama Care. Nov. 9, 2009
3 - Dennis Cuddy: Obamacare? Sept. 19, 2009
4 - Jim Kouri: Critics Say Obama-Care Prescription for Fraud and Abuse. Sept. 11, 2009
5 - Sarah Foster: White House sued for online 'Snitch' Box. Sept. 1, 2009
6 - Jim Kouri: Americans Skeptical Over Obama's Health Care. July 21, 2009
7 - Joel Turtel: Obama's Health Care Death Lists Coming Your Way. July 18, 2009
8 - Jim Kouri: Health Care Report: Americans Paying More for Less. July 3, 2009
9 - Jim Kouri: Obama's Health Plan Poses Danger to American Freedoms. Jan. 13, 2009

More Reading / Sources

1 - H.R. 3590: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Introduced by Sen. Harry Reid Nov. 19. Originally a bill dealing with first-time homebuyers credit for veterans which passed the House Oct. 8, it is now the vehicle for the version of health care reform currently being debated by the Senate.
2 - Rep. John Dingell: H.R. 3962: Affordable Health Care for America Act (“PelosiCare”)
3 - TNA Staff: Republicans Promise Procedural Resistance to Health Care Legislation: The New American, Dec. 17, 2009
4 - Martin Anderson: Creating a Health-Care GM: Providence Journal, Dec. 10, 2009

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Sarah Foster is a researcher and freelance writer:











Reid is expected to file a motion for cloture very soon, possibly this weekend. If the 60 votes needed to close debate are there and the Senate votes Monday or Tuesday, a vote on the bill itself could come Wednesday or Thursday and need only 51 votes for passage.