Published March 17, 2010
President Obama is not worried -- and doesn't think Americans should worry -- about the "procedural" debate over whether House Democratic leaders should go ahead with a plan to approve health care reform without a traditional vote, he told Fox News on Wednesday.
The president, in an interview with Fox News' Bret Baier, responded for the first time to the controversy over a plan to use a parliamentary maneuver to allow the House to pass the Senate's health care bill without forcing members to vote for it directly.
The esoteric procedure has drawn fierce protest from Republicans, who say Democrats are trying to avoid accountability. But the president said there will be no doubt about where lawmakers stand on health care reform.
"I don't spend a lot of time worrying about what the procedural rules are in the House or Senate," Obama said. "What I can tell you is that the vote that's taken in the House will be a vote for health care reform. And if people vote yes, whatever form that takes, that is going to be a vote for health care reform. And I don't think we should pretend otherwise. And if they don't, if they vote against it, then they're going to be voting against health care reform and they're going to be voting in favor of the status quo.
"So Washington gets very concerned with these procedures in Congress, whether Republicans are in charge or Democrats are in charge," he said.
Indeed, House lawmakers would be going on record for health care reform. But they wouldn't be casting a vote for the Senate bill alone.
Instead, under a process called a "self-executing rule," the House could simultaneously approve the Senate bill while voting on a package of changes to it. This would "deem" the Senate bill to be passed, without compelling members to vote for it directly.
Democratic leaders are considering the option because many House Democrats don't want to cast a vote in favor of the unaltered Senate bill, which they oppose for numerous reasons. But the House must pass the Senate bill in order to move on to the package of changes intended to correct all the things about it that they don't like.
The tactic would allow members to temporarily accept the Senate version while keeping it at arm's length.
Obama brushed off concerns about the special deals that helped get the Senate bill passed.
"By the time the vote has taken place, not only I will know what's in it, you'll know what's in it because it's going to be posted and everybody's going to be able to evaluate it on the merits," he said.
Obama said the the debate over the deals "ends up being a little frustrating is because the focus entirely is on Washington process."
Throughout the interview, the president repeatedly deflected questions about process.
Asked to respond to a viewer's e-mail question about why he has to "bribe Congress to pass it," Obama said, "I've got the same exact e-mails that I could show you that talk about why haven't we done something to make sure that I, a small business person, am getting as good a deal as members of Congress are getting, and don't have my insurance rates jacked up 40 percent?"
Obama later added, "I've got to say to you, there are a lot more people who are concerned about the fact that they may be losing their house or going bankrupt because of health care."
Obama expressed confidence that the health care bill will pass.
"And the reason I'm confident that it's going to pass is because it's the right thing to do," he said.
"And yes, I have said that this is an ugly process," he said. "It was ugly when Republicans were in charge. It was ugly when Democrats were in charge."