Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The “Slaughter Solution:” Democrats’ Latest Backroom Deal to Pass a Government Takeover of Health Care

“I believe that Congress owes the American people a final up or down vote on health care reform.”

—President Obama, March 10, 2010[I]


What is the “Slaughter Solution?”

Recent press reports indicate that Speaker Pelosi and House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter will attempt a procedural ploy—the Slaughter Solution—to shield wary House Democrats from having to take an up-or-down vote on the widely unpopular health legislation that passed the Senate in December.[ii] Such an initiative would result in the House “deeming” the Senate bill passed, without taking a separate vote on whether or not Members actually want to enact the Senate bill into law.

Would the “Slaughter Solution” be consistent with President Obama’s call for an up-or-down vote on health care legislation?

It would not. In fact, it would expressly deny the House of Representatives the opportunity to cast such an up-or-down vote on the Senate-passed bill.

Why are House Democrats so afraid to cast an up-or-down vote on a bill written by Senate Democrats?

It’s worth noting that House Democrats could have ended the health care debate months ago by voting to pass the legislation (H.R. 3590) cleared by the Senate on December 24. However, that Senate bill contains numerous backroom deals—the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, and others—that have become unpopular among Democrats and the general public. The Senate bill also contains a Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans that Democrats’ union constituencies find unacceptable, and provisions permitting federal funding of insurance plans covering abortion to which some pro-life Democrats object.

Would the Slaughter Solution be an unprecedented act by the House of Representatives?

The Washington Post wrote that, deeming a 2,733-page health care bill enacted into law without ever taking an up-or-down vote on the measure would be an act unprecedented in its scope, as deeming has never been used “to pass legislation as momentous as the $875 billion health care bill.”[iii] Democrats also appear to be increasing their reliance on the procedure as a way to avoid taking votes on unpopular issues. For instance, just last month the House “deemed” an unprecedented $1.9 trillion increase in the federal debt limit (P.L. 111-139) passed without taking an up-or-down vote on the measure[iv]—a move that some may view as particularly fitting, since Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats are now attempting to enact $2.3 trillion in new spending into law through exactly the same parliamentary tactic.[v]

Is the Slaughter Solution the only unprecedented tactic Democrats are prepared to use to enact their health care agenda?

No. Both House and Senate Democrats are working to pass a budget reconciliation package to “fix” the unpopular provisions in the Senate-passed health care bill. While reconciliation has been used in the past for various fiscal matters, it has not been used to re-orient the entire health care sector, comprising more than one-sixth of the American economy. Moreover, it is impossible to view Democrats’ recent decision to utilize the reconciliation process for health care as anything but an attempt to circumvent the effects brought by the election of Scott Brown to the Senate and the will of Americans as consistently expressed in national polling.[vi]

Could the reconciliation process contain further unprecedented acts by Democrats to stifle debate?

Yes. Specifically, Senate Democrats have promised that they will move to limit the number of amendments that Republicans can offer to the reconciliation package—even though neither the Congressional Budget Act nor Senate rules impose any limit on the amendments the majority and minority can offer to reconciliation legislation.[vii]

Given the backroom deals and controversial provisions included in the Senate bill, it is not surprising that Democrats would go to such lengths as enacting the Senate bill without the House ever voting on it.


[i] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-health-insurance-reform-st-charles-mo

[ii] “Slaughter Preps Rule to Avoid Direct Vote on Senate Bill,” CongressDailyAM March 10, 2010, available at http://gopleader.gov/UploadedFiles/CD_03-10-10_Slaughter_Preps_Rule_To_Avoid_Direct_Vote_On_Senate_Bill.pdf.

[iii] Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane, “House May Try to Pass Senate Health Care Bill Without Voting on It,” Washington Post March 16, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/15/AR2010031503742_pf.html.

[iv] H.Res. 1065 “deemed” the debt limit passed upon the House passage of statutory PAYGO provisions.

[v] Senate Budget Committee Republican staff estimate of the 10-year cost of H.R. 3590 when fully implemented.

[vi] Martin Gold, “Reconciliation and Health Care,” Federalist Society paper, March 10, 2010, http://www.fed-soc.org/doclib/20100310_ReconciliationFINAL.pdf.

[vii] Robert Pear, “Democrats Struggle to Finish Health Bill,” New York Times March 11, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/12/health/policy/12health.html.