WaPo Puts Slaughter Solution on Page One -- But Where Are the Good-Government Gurus?

March 16th, 2010 11:17 AM

Some credit should go to The Washington Post on Tuesday for putting Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the front page as she boldly associates the "Democratic" Party with the strange notion of passing bills without a vote. But reporters Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane present the only opponents of this scheme as Republicans. Where are the disdainful good-government gurus? The Post reported:

The tactic -- known as a "self-executing rule" or a "deem and pass" -- has been commonly used, although never to pass legislation as momentous as the $875 billion health-care bill. It is one of three options that Pelosi said she is considering for a late-week House vote, but she added that she prefers it because it would politically protect lawmakers who are reluctant to publicly support the measure.

"It's more insider and process-oriented than most people want to know," the speaker said in a roundtable discussion with bloggers Monday. "But I like it," she said, "because people don't have to vote on the Senate bill."

No nonpartisan expert found it strange that a massive – what Pelosi promises is "historic" – expansion of entitlement spending would pass without a vote, and that perhaps the voters are being deprived of representative democracy. Where is Norman Ornstein to lament?

Actually, Ornstein is quoted in a different story, talking up the Democrats’ improving chances in the latest Happy Talk piece by Perry Bacon:

"You can go from an abysmally low, low poll rating to just a low approval rating," said Norman Ornstein, a nonpartisan congressional expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

Meanwhile, the Montgomery-Kane story ends on a bizarre Democrat-excuse-making note:

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the Democratic leader tasked with protecting politically vulnerable incumbents, said Republicans would twist the nature of the health-care vote, no matter how the leadership proceeds. He defended the deem-and-pass strategy as a way "to make it clear we're amending the Senate bill."

Without that approach, Van Hollen warned, "people are going to try to create the impression that the Senate bill is the final product, and it's not."

Undecided Democrats appeared unconcerned by the flap. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), a retiring lawmaker who opposed the original House bill and is undecided on the new package, mocked Republican criticism of the process. Ultimately, he said, voters will hold lawmakers responsible for any changes in law.

"I don't think anybody's going to say that we didn't vote for the bill," he said.

Yes, they will, if the House doesn’t actually vote on the bill, with their names on the journal. Why would a newspaper end on such an unfactual note?

The Post editorial page included their disapproval of the tactic today, but merely suggested it was "unseemly," not downright unconstitutional:

That may help some House members dodge a politically difficult decision, but it strikes us as a dodgy way to reform the health-care system. Democrats who vote for the package will be tagged with supporting the Senate bill in any event. Why not be straightforward about it?

"Dodgy"? Is that the best they can do? That editorial is not linked when you read the front-page story online.