Pelosi vision of the road ahead

PELOSI VISION OF THE ROAD AHEAD…. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat down this morning with nine bloggers/reporters to share some thoughts on the fate of health care reform, as the effort enters what may be its final week.

As Pelosi characterized it, the process is on track. “I have no intention of not passing this bill,” she said. “Let me say it in a positive way: I have faith in my members that we will be passing this legislation.” Speaking to the tensions between the chambers, the Speaker added, “We’re…willing to trust the Senate that they are able to pass the reconciliation package.”

Pelosi also if/when the reform package passes, additional steps are on the way. “Kick open that door, and there will be other legislation to follow,” she said. “We’ll take the country in a new direction.”

But of particular interest, the Speaker also talked a bit about exactly how reform might pass the House. Ezra explained that Pelosi is eyeing a “deem and pass” strategy.

Here’s how that will work: Rather than passing the Senate bill and then passing the fixes, the House will pass the fixes under a rule that says the House “deems” the Senate bill passed after the House passes the fixes.

The virtue of this, for Pelosi’s members, is that they don’t actually vote on the Senate bill. They only vote on the reconciliation package. But their vote on the reconciliation package functions as a vote on the Senate bill. The difference is semantic, but the bottom line is this: When the House votes on the reconciliation fixes, the Senate bill is passed, even if the Senate hasn’t voted on the reconciliation fixes, and even though the House never specifically voted on the Senate bill.

Why bother with this? House Dems who might want to support health care reform don’t necessarily want to vote for weaker elements of the Senate bill — elements like the “Cornhusker Kickback,” which are coming out through the budget fix anyway — and would rather pass it without a formal up-or-down vote. It’s easier, they believe, to “deem” it passed and then vote on the reconciliation measure, rather than go on record voting in support of the Senate package. (If this seems a little excessive to you, we’re on the same page.)

What would happen if “deem and pass” works? Two things: (1) the Senate bill would then go to the White House to be signed into law; and (2) the House-approved reconciliation fix would go to the Senate for an up-or-down vote. With 51 votes, the Senate would the send the fix to Obama for his signature, and health care reform would be complete.

The alternative — which, frankly, I thought was more likely — was for the House to vote twice: once on the Senate bill and once on the “sidecar.” Pelosi, almost certainly responding to pressure from her caucus members, prefers “deem and pass,” which makes it the more likely avenue.

And with that, the search for 216 continues.