The following is a general lay of the land, spelling out how I anticipate the next few days to unfold in the House of Representatives. This is very subject to change. But it’s my first read of the House landscape.
The Shorthand: This is lining up for a Sunday vote. And just because they went on the clock this afternoon in the 2 pm hour does not mean the vote will happen then. I would expect it to unfold later in the day if not bleed into the evening.
• Friday: This will be “messaging” day. Expect a lot of press conferences and positioning statements as lawmakers steel their positions one last time before the big push this weekend. We could have some announcements as lawmakers declare their positions on the vote. There may not be much action at all on the House floor.
• Saturday: This is a two-for one. We are expecting Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Steve King (R-IA) to try to organize a tea party rally on the East Front of the Capitol the same way they did in November. I’m told they don’t have a permit yet. Expect this to unfold around noon. Also, this is the day we expect the House Democrats to haul the reconciliation bill before the Rules Committee. This will be an onerous and lengthy process. Expect dozens of lawmakers to come before the Rules Committee, appealing that their provision or pet project be made in order before the Rules Committee.
Why is the Rules Committee important?
This is the final stop of the reconciliation bill before it hits the House floor. The Rules Committee will in essence “write” the reconciliation package, deciding what’s in or out for the moment. They will also craft a “rule.” This is the controversial part.
Almost every piece of legislation that goes to the House floor needs a rule which governs debate, such as how much time they’ll spend on something or if amendments are in order. It’s like the NFL crafting a new rulebook before every Sunday. Prospectively attached to this rule will be a self-executing provision, which, once the rule is approved by the full House, also okays the Senate version of health care. This is the dubious “two-fer” that everyone has been talking about for days.
Look for the Rules Committee meeting to run all day long. It will be on-cam via the pool and fed back live. This is where the rubber really hits the road. Also, look for a potential agreement on abortion. Remember, the Stupak Amendment wasn’t made part of the rule the last time until 2:30 am on a Saturday, the same day as the November health care vote.
As for the House floor, expect the House to do little of merit. It could technically be in session, but in recess “subject to the call of the chair.”
• Sunday: This is the big day. The House will meet at 1 pm. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says the House will not have any votes until 2 pm (keeping with the 72-hour clock that is now running).
The first order of business for the House, after one-minute speeches, etc., will be a short series of votes. These will be procedural, extraneous votes that the Democrats will plan. Here on the Hill we call them “bed check” votes (and you thought your RA’s were tough in college). The purpose behind these votes is just to get all members of the floor so leaders can take attendance and physically see everyone. At this stage, the Democratic whip operation moves to make sure everyone is in line and they know where they stand in anticipation of the big vote later in the day.
The House will then call up the “rule” to the House floor. This is the debate everyone has been waiting for. While technically a procedural debate, this is often testy and will make for good television. This is the key debate to watch as they creep up toward the adoption of the rule which will pass the Senate bill and allow the reconciliation package to move to the House floor.
The House is almost always restricted to having an hour of debate on the rule. They’ll then go to a series of votes. Somewhere in that series of votes will be the key vote to approve the rule.
If the House approves the rule, the Senate bill is passed and then the reconciliation package can come to the floor.
There will then be a couple of hours (prospectively) on the reconciliation resolution. Debate time here is unclear because this is something that will be decided by the Rules Committee. After that debate is done, the House will then vote on the reconciliation package.
If adopts reconciliation, it has completed its action on health care. Both the House and Senate have now passed the Senate bill and it is shipped to the White House. And the House can then move its recompilation package to the Senate for the next round of parliamentary gymnastics.
In conclusion, I would honestly not anticipate a vote on the rule nor on the reconciliation package itself until late afternoon if not Sunday evening or later. It depends on how much time the Rules Committee allows. And we won’t know that until it forges its rule, sometime on Saturday.
Possible pitfalls? If Democrats don’t have the votes, expect everything to come to a screeching halt and they will scramble around to round up folks.