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,  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.