Hoyer Defends Tactic to Pass Health Bill

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) Tuesday defended the Democrats’ use of a parliamentary gambit to pass the Senate’s vision of the health care bill without having a traditional debate and a clear vote on the issue.

“We’re playing it straight,” said Hoyer, referring to the method, sometimes referred to as a self-executing rule. “They used it 30 percent of the time. We used it 16 percent of the time.”

A self-executing rule is a “buy one, get one free.” In other words, when the House approves the rule that governs debate for the new health care bill, it will simultaneously approve the health care legislation that the Senate approved last Christmas Eve.

Both chambers of Congress must approve the Senate bill and President Obama must sign the legislation into law before the Senate can begin debating the next step in the effort to reform health care.

Hoyer brushed aside criticisms that Democrats were abusing the process just to lug the health care bill across the finish line. And he dismissed concerns that the public was mystified at the ploy Democrats could embark on in the coming days.

“Other than the people in this room, do you think anyone is going to make a distinction between the two?” Hoyer asked a group of reporters huddled in his office when questioned about using the self-executing rule or having a regular vote on the Senate bill.

But the top Republican on the House Rules Committee, Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) disputed Hoyer’s analysis.

“The American people have never followed what goes on in Washington more closely,” Dreier said in a statement.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-IN) argued that Democrats were up to tricks had had “decided they’re going to try to pass the bill without a vote.”

“That would be news to the founders of this country and a betrayal of the commitment of every Member of this Congress to the American people,” Pence said.

Hoyer rejected the premise that the House would not actually “vote” on the Senate legislation, thus short-circuiting the democratic process.

“We’re going to vote on a bill and a rule that will provide for it if a majority are for it…will adopt a bill,” Hoyer said. “We will vote on it in one form or another.”

The House and Senate do not always hold roll call votes to pass amendments or entire pieces of legislation. Each day, the House and Senate approves items either by voice vote (where lawmakers either shout ‘yea’ or ‘nay’) or by “unanimous consent.” Unanimous consent, or “UC” as it’s referred to in Congressional-ese, is where the presiding officer asks if there is objection to approving a measure. If hearing none, the bill or amendment is adopted.