Possibly my favorite news of the new Congress has been that its budget approach will revolve around "deem and pass." This is a parliamentary maneuver in which the House deems a piece of legislation to have been passed by rule:
Because Democrats didn't pass a budget, and because spending authority expires in early March, there's a strong chance that the government will run out of money before the House and Senate agree to new spending levels. When that happens, under the new House rules, spending will continue -- but at levels no higher than those chosen by the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan.
As soon as those rules are adopted on Wednesday, Ryan's spending levels will be considered -- or "deemed" -- adopted by the full House as if they'd passed a budget with a floor vote. The legislative language in the rules package holds that Ryan's spending limits, "shall be considered as contained in a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2011 and the submission thereof into the Congressional Record shall be considered as the completion of congressional action on a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2011."
I don't have any objection to the practice. It does, in theory, reduce accountability, because it adopts policy changes without explicit votes. But all the minority party has to do is assert that anybody in the majority who voted for the rule votes for the policy in question -- i.e., if you supported the rule, then you votes to cut Pell Grants and environmental enforcement or whatever cuts emerge from this process.
What I find hilarious is that, for a brief spell last year, conservatives whipped themselves into a frenzy of indignation over (abandoned) Democratic plans to use this maneuver for health care reform. Conservatives were calling this the "Slaughter Solution" or "Demon Pass." It was the end of democracy!
Here's vintage Jennifer Rubin:
But don’t they have to vote on the bill? Oh, pish-posh, let’s not get hung up on constitutional niceties. There’s historic legislation to be passed … er … “hereby ruled” through the House. Yes, it sure is a sign that the bill is so noxious that lawmakers have to pretend they aren’t voting for it in order to, well, vote for it. (”We have entered a political wonderland, where the rules are whatever Democrats say they are. Mrs. Pelosi and the White House are resorting to these abuses because their bill is so unpopular that a majority even of their own party doesn’t want to vote for it.”)
Even Nancy Pelosi is trying to keep things vague, suggesting it may not come to this. But it is coming to this, because a desperate president and the equally desperate Democratic leadership fear losing, so they resort to tricks, backroom deals, and parliamentary sleights of hand. That’s in large part how the bill got to be so unpopular. Nevertheless, the Democrats seem intent on doubling down, so why not load up on the procedural gimmicks? At some point — now would be as good a time as any — saner Democratic heads may prevail and wonder why their leaders must shred the Constitution in order to pass a bill that’s supposedly such an electoral winner for their side.
and the Wall Street Journal editorial page:
We're not sure American schools teach civics any more, but once upon a time they taught that under the U.S. Constitution a bill had to pass both the House and Senate to become law. Until this week, that is, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi is moving to merely "deem" that the House has passed the Senate health-care bill and then send it to President Obama to sign anyway. ...
We have entered a political wonderland, where the rules are whatever Democrats say they are.
and Bill Kristol:
In other words: the American public doesn't care about how our representatives govern us--which is to say, about how we govern ourselves. Whether Congress follows its rules, whether there is democratic accountability, whether there is constitutional probity--none of this matters according to Hoyer. Rather, the self-centered and self-concerned American people only care about the (alleged) results of the legislation.
Here the Democrats betray their contempt for the supposed simple-mindedness and short-sightedness of the American public. They also convey their vision of the American people living under the big government liberalism: We are to be passive consumers of government action, who accept what is done for us and to us in light of our perceived narrow short-term self-interest. We are not to think of ourselves as self-governing citizens with a stake in the process of constitutional self-government and a concern for the good of the whole.
You will not be surprised to learn that none of these sources appear the slightest bit concerned that Republicans have adopted this Constitution-shredding procedure. A huge proportion of American political discourse consists of procedural complaints, and almost all of these are disingenuous. Thus Republicans complained bitterly about the lack of amendments to the health care bill, but are now not allowing amendments to their health care repeal bill. They're insisting that bills cite Constitutional authority, but refusing to allow those bills to cite the parts of the Constitution they don't like.
What amazes me about these debates is the degree to which the participants are able to convince themselves that some actual principle is at stake. It never fails.