Deem and Pass | A procedural vote with big implications

Thursday, April 18th, 2013 By

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi (Photo: Wikipedia)

With the health care bill dragging into its second year of debate, there is talk from house leader Nancy Pelosi that a “procedural action” called Deem and Pass may be used to move the health care bill through the House. Half vote and half procedural action, the Deem and Pass action – otherwise known as the “Slaughter rule” – has raised blood pressures on both sides of the aisle, but unless you are a career politician, deem and pass can get more confusing than no fax payday loans very quickly. So here’s the basic primer on deem and pass for all the non-politicians out there.

What is deem and pass?

The term “deem and pass” actually refers to a rule of procedure in Congress known as “self-executing.” A full description of the rules pertaining to the self-executing rule/deem and pass is available on the house web site here. In general, deem and pass can be used as a two-for-one procedure. The house Speaker can deem amendments or changes to have passed the House, and incorporate those changes in a bill to be taken up.

Originally, deem and pass was used to expedite one chamber accepting the amendments to a bill passed by the other house. Rather than individually voting on each amendment and then on the completed bill with the amendments, which could sometimes take days, the chamber could simply “deem and pass” the amendments to move the bill into reconciliation (where the House and Senate versions of a bill are reconciled with one another before being sent to the White House).

Is Deem and Pass constitutional?

Since the suggestion that deem and pass may be used to pass the House amendments to the Senate health care package, many opponents have questioned the constitutionality of the deem and pass procedure. In The American Spectator, Representative McCotter claimed this procedure would “violate constitutionally prescribed procedures”.

However, in 2007, the United States Court of Appeals in D.C. ruled on this exact question in Public Citizen v. US District Court. The ruling is a 64-part discussion of the constitutionality of deem and pass – and it is ruled constitutional. Nancy Pelosi had actually joined Public Citizen on that case, along with Louise Slaughter. So yes, deem challenge was determined to be constitutional just a few years ago – the same place it got the name “Slaughter rule.”

Has Deem and Pass been used in the past?

Yes, deem and pass has not only been found to be constitutional, but it has been used multiple times. Deem and pass was first used in 1933 to pass a budgetary amendment and bill. Between 2005 and 2006, the American Enterprise Institute reports that the “self executing rule” – otherwise known as deem and pass – was used at least 35 times. The procedure was used for everything from federal debt consolidation to sweeping rule changes.

How will Deem and Pass be used for the health care bill?

The arguments about deem and pass are now centered on Nancy Pelosi’s plan to use deem and pass to push the health care bill through the house. It has been reported by several sources that this is “an effort to push the bill through without voting on it.” This, however, is not true. As The Atlantic explains, deem and pass will instead combine an up-or-down vote on the procedural parts of the bill with passing the House amendments on the Senate health care bill.

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