Tom Campbell blasts tactic oft-used by GOP

The health-care reform battle is reaching fever pitch, with reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will adopt a rule signaling its assent to the Senate version of the legislation with its vote on reconciliation bill – thus bypassing a House vote on the Senate version alone.

Gibberish, yes. The Washington Post explains it better.

And Republican U.S. Senate candidate and former Congressman Tom Campbell says it’s bad, bad, bad.

“This approach is an outrage. It’s not too much to ask that our Representatives actually vote on measures they intend to make into law. That’s what the Constitution requires. That’s what personal accountability requires. I have a record on this: I forced the House to vote on whether President Clinton’s war in Yugoslavia should go ahead or not. The Constitution required Congress to make that decision. No less importantly, here, a bill with a $2.5 trillion price tag has to be voted on the merits, by the House and the Senate. To think that a bill with that kind of fiscal impact and social impact could be passed without even a vote cast in the House is absurd. This is a new low in Democrat Congressional tactics.”

But as Time’s Karen Tumulty noted Saturday, Donald Wolfensberger – director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Congress Project, and a former House Rules Committee chief of staff under GOP rule – made it clear years ago that this is hardly a “Democrat Congressional tactic.”

When Republicans were in the minority, they railed against self-executing rules as being anti-deliberative because they undermined and perverted the work of committees and also prevented the House from having a separate debate and vote on the majority’s preferred changes. From the 95th to 98th Congresses (1977-84), there were only eight self-executing rules making up just 1 percent of the 857 total rules granted. However, in Speaker Tip O’Neill’s (D-Mass.) final term in the 99th Congress, there were 20 self-executing rules (12 percent). In Rep. Jim Wright’s (D-Texas) only full term as Speaker, in the 100th Congress, there were 18 self-executing rules (17 percent). They reached a high point of 30 under Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.) during the final Democratic Congress, the 103rd, for 22 percent of all rules.

When Republicans took power in 1995, they soon lost their aversion to self-executing rules and proceeded to set new records under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). There were 38 and 52 self-executing rules in the 104th and 105th Congresses (1995-1998), making up 25 percent and 35 percent of all rules, respectively. Under Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) there were 40, 42 and 30 self-executing rules in the 106th, 107th and 108th Congresses (22 percent, 37 percent and 22 percent, respectively). Thus far in the 109th Congress, self-executing rules make up about 16 percent of all rules.

On April 26, [2006] the Rules Committee served up the mother of all self-executing rules for the lobby/ethics reform bill. The committee hit the trifecta with not one, not two, but three self-executing provisions in the same special rule. The first trigger was a double whammy: “In lieu of the amendments recommended by the Committees on the Judiciary, Rules, and Government Reform now printed in the bill, the amendment in the nature of a substitute consisting of the text of the Rules Committee Print dated April 21, 2006, modified by the amendment printed in part A of the report of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution, shall be considered as adopted in the House and the Committee of the Whole.”

So Republicans eagerly used this tactic when it suited them, again and again. And Tom Campbell was there, representing the 12th Congressional District from 1989 to 1993 and the 15th Congressional District from 1995 to 2001.

“Fair question, and it’s true that both Democrats and Republicans have stretched the rules for their own purposes,” he told me today in an e-mail. “Never before, however, have I seen a ‘deeming’ rule used in this manner. The only thing close was on an adjournment resolution, where one house decided to leave town before the other was done. I never saw it done to avoid a vote on a substantive matter of this importance.”

The Congressional Research Service, however, recalls several examples in which self-executing rules were used “to enact significant substantive and sometimes controversial propositions” — including at least four during Campbell’s tenure:

— On March 19, 1996, the House adopted a rule (H.Res. 384) that incorporated a voluntary employee verification program — addressing the employment of illegal immigrants — into a committee substitute made in order as original text.
— H.Res. 239, agreed to on September 24, 1997, automatically incorporated into the base bill a provision to block the use of statistical sampling for the 2000 census until federal courts had an opportunity to rule on its constitutionality.
–A closed rule (H.Res. 303) on an IRS reform bill provided for automatic adoption of four amendments to the committee substitute made in order as original text. The rule was adopted on November 5, 1997, with bipartisan support.
— On May 7, 1998, an intelligence authorization bill was made in order by H.Res. 420. This self-executing rule dropped a section from the intelligence measure that would have permitted the CIA to offer their employees an early-out retirement program.

None of those are as far-reaching as health-care reform, but they sure weren’t just adjournment votes, either.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • AJ

    True but none of those mention tries to enact a bill into law without on up or down vote with nays and yeas being recorded accordingly. Let me also remind you that the bill we’re referring to will impact 1/6 of our economy. The Constitution can’t be averted!

  • All the other examples were fully bipartisan, and the intents and situations were different. That does not excuse avoiding a vote in those cases, but this is entirely different:

    The Democrats can not get sufficient votes to pass their $trillion government-run health scheme. The citizens certainly do not want it, at least not anywhere near its current form.

    So 0bama, Pelosi, Reid, and the rest of these vote-avoiding reprobates completely ignore rules, precedent and the Constitution, and deviously game the system for their own benefit, in return for the votes of the unionized government ‘workers.’

    They are acting like the Constitution is a roll of toilet paper, and they assume they can do whatever they want in order to “fundamentally transform” the U.S.A. – which became great without the expensive burden of excessive government.

    You can practically hear them laughing at the majority of Americans, who are screaming “NO!!”

    Maybe they’ll hear us in November, which gets closer every passing day.

  • Elwood

    “Maybe they’ll hear us in November, which gets closer every passing day.”

    Thank God!

    The dimmiecrats had better do some high speed gloating, because after November they won’t have much to gloat about.

  • T. Paine

    Cons have used both reconciliation and self-executing rules more often than Democrats. It is obviously not unconstitutional – as a matter of fact the court sand a Republican judge have ruled that “Deem and Pass” or self-executable are legal within the rules of the House – the House can makes its own parliamentary rules. All bills go through reconciliation of some sort unless there is an agreement on exact language between both Houses of Congress before hand.Current House Minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) has voted yea on several self-executables:

    4. H. Res. 391 (a rule for the “Senior Citizens’ Right to Work Act”, included a provision to consider the conference report to accompany the “Line Item Veto Act” as adopted upon receiving a message informing it that the Senate had adopted the conference report), March 28, 1996 (passed 232-177) – Republican controlled 104 Congress (MAJOR LEGISLATION)
    Ø Boehner – YEA

    10. H. Res. 653 (deemed as passed the Senate amendment to House amendments to the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 – Reconciliation), February 1, 2006 (passed 216-214) – Republican controlled 109thCongress
    Ø Boehner – YEA
    Ø Cantor – YEA

    Republicans have used reconciliation more often including bills that involved billions in tax and revenue.

    The cost of health care reform? Except for provisions pertaining to Medicare and physician reimbursements – the Bill already passed by the Senate will be budget neutral according to the CBO. In 2008, U.S. health care spending was about $7,681 per resident and accounted for 16.2% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP); this is among the highest of all industrialized countries. Total health care expenditures grew at an annual rate of 4.4 percent in 2008, a slower rate than recent years, yet still outpacing inflation and the growth in national income.If we maintain the current status quo in a few years only half the population will be able to afford employer provided health insurance if offered at all. Many employers will be forced to either cut wages or do away with health care insurance. Currently health care related expenses are the single biggest cause of middle and low wage working class bankruptcies.A Harvard study found that nearly 45000 excess deaths are annually linked to lack of health care coverage. people are literally so embarrassed at the prospect of not being able to pay or going into debt that they go without life saving medical care.

  • AJ

    Washington Post article – “They have never been used to pass legislation as momentous as the $875 billion health-care package, however.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/16/AR2010031604361.html

  • AJ
  • John W.

    Logically, I can’t see anything wrong with passing a bill of amendments that incorporates the base bill (i.e., the already passed Senate bill) by reference. Contracts and, yes, laws do that all the time. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a major bill, minor bill, bipartisan or whatever. Nobody is getting out of being accountable for voting up or down. Voting for the “deemer” is the same as voting for two separate bills (Senate bill and an amendments bill). The real story is this. The Senate bill still has some of the rightfully controversial provisions (i.e., the “Cornhusker” deal). The amendments get rid of those provisions (at least some of them). If the Dems vote for the Senate bill on a standalone basis first, it will go on the record that Congressman so and so voted in favor of the “Cornhuskers,” which the Repubs will go to great lengths to point out in competitive midterms, conveniently ignoring the fact that the amendments bill cleans up some of that stuff. Why should the House Dems have to expose themselves to criticism for voting for the controversial stuff that they are, in fact, voting against by means of the amendments?