User's Manual To the House and Health Care for Saturday


The Shorthand: Three important things happening.


The Rules Committee meets all day to prepare the reconciliation package to the to the floor and also to ready the “two-for-one” provision that will approve the Senate health care bill. Secondly, President Obama comes to the Hill in the afternoon for a closed-door pep rally with House Democrats. Third, there will be a tea-party rally protesting the health care bill on the West Front of the Capitol.


Now the specifics.


In many respects, this is kind of what the Senate was doing in December. Except they’re not voting at 7 am (yet) on Christmas Eve. And the Capitol isn’t entombed in 16 inches of snow after the first blizzard. And for the record, the National Weather Service is predicting sunny and 74 here tomorrow. Cherry blossoms nearly in bloom. And the SunTrust National Marathon will close off streets around the Capitol all morning. That’s certain to further exasperate frustrate lawmakers, aides and reporters already upset about having to report to work on a Saturday.


The House meets at 9 am. Much of the day will play out like a typical legislative day here on Capitol Hill. The House will debate H.R. 1612, the Public Lands Services Corps Act of 2009. The debate will be interspersed with votes.


But at 10 am is when the heavy lift begins.


The House Rules Committee begins its meeting to craft the “rule” that governs debate for the reconciliation bill. Democrats are expected to affix a provision that will simultaneously approve the Senate’s health care reform bill when the House adopts the rule. Forging a “rule” is critical in the House. Nearly every piece of legislation that hits the House floor must get a “rule” which details how the House will handle that issue on the floor. The meeting will be long. Expect Republicans to offer nearly 100 amendments. Keep in mind that amendments must be germane (they must deal directly with the bill and not be extraneous). Democrats are expected to keep the bill “Byrd Compliant.” The Byrd Rule in the Senate (named after Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV) means that provisions in the reconciliation resolution must deal directly with spending and budgetary matters and not deal with policy. In the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), “We tried to have a Byrd scrub.”


IMPORTANT: Watch for the potential introduction of a “manager’s amendment.” This is the penultimate, final change to the bill. But it can sometimes become a wish-list for last-minute fixes to secure the votes of wavering lawmakers. Pelosi is on record today as saying she has “a couple of technical changes that we need to make” to the bill. She then added “There will be no further changes in the bill.” If Democrats introduce a major manager’s amendment with big policy changes at this late hour, expect the Republicans to go ballistic.


Regardless, the Rules Committee meeting is expected to go for much of the day. And it often provides great political theatre. A couple of years ago, I dispatched my intern Katelyn Ferral to the Rules Committee. She came back amazed and wrote an essay about the meeting. She described the Rules Committee as a “Moliere farce.”


“The Democrats introduce rules, the Republican attempt to amend and then a party-line vote is cast at the end. The buildup to the vote is most comparable to a scene out of Tartuffe, where hypocrites are verbally roasted by Moliere,” Ferral wrote.


WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Off-stage around the Capitol, there will be negotiations with fence-sitting lawmakers and talks with lawmakers from both sides about abortion.


In the Shadow of the Dome: Expect a big tea-party rally on the West Front of the Capitol This will make for interesting theatre, too.


A special visitor: At 3 pm, President Obama will come to the Capitol for a final push with House Democrats. He’ll speak to them in the Cannon Caucus Room, across the street from the Capitol. This is the same room where Mr. Obama met with House Democrats the day of the big health care vote last November.