Democrats move closer to passing Senate health bill without vote on text

House Democrats are marching forward with plans to move the Senate healthcare bill through their chamber without actually voting on it.

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday morning released a memo defending the so-called “deem and pass” procedure, which the memo said has a long precedent in the House and is used commonly.

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“For starters, despite what the minority may claim, the precedent for adopting a resolution and at the same time concurring in a Senate amendment to a bill was set back in 1933,” the Rules memo states.

Under the process, the Rules Committee would adopt a self-executing rule that would “deem” the Senate bill passed when the House votes on a package of changes to it.

The package of changes then will be voted on by the Senate under budget reconciliation rules, which prevent Republicans from mounting a filibuster.

The Rules memo noted that the House just used the procedure in February to pass an increase to the federal debt limit, and that the model has been used “far more often by Republicans than Democrats” over the years.

It listed dozens of times the procedure has been used over the past 20 years, including when a GOP-controlled Congress used it to approve the Line Item Veto Act in 1996.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged Monday that the procedure is an option under consideration. Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) told The Hill that leaders “haven’t come to any conclusions on that yet.”

Democrats will have to make the tough choice on using the tactic soon. House leaders still hope they can complete the process with a floor vote by the end of the week.

Using the “deem and pass” procedure could make it easier for reluctant Democrats, particularly on the left, to support the Senate bill. Packaging the legislation within a rule would put the emphasis of the vote on the changes that House Democrats are demanding be made to the bill. As a result, the optics of the vote could improve for some Democrats.

Still, a vote in favor of the rule would represent a vote for the Senate bill, and would likely be rolled into hundreds of political commercials to be run this fall, when Democrats could lose dozens of seats.

Republicans say Democrats are tying to avoid a vote with the tactic.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Tuesday took to the Senate floor to criticize what he described as the "Slaughter solution," which he called "jaw-dropping in its audacity."

"Anybody who thinks this is a good strategy isn't thinking clearly. They're too close to the situation," he said. "They don't realize that this strategy is the only thing that they or this Congress will be rememberd for.

"Anyone who endorses this strategy will be forever remembered for trying to claim they didn't vote for something they did."

Some Democratic political strategists insist the situation would be even worse if the party fails to pass healthcare reform, which has been the main agenda item of President Barack Obama’s first year in office.

“If they fail to pass healthcare, they lost the House,” said Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and White House insider during the Clinton administration.

“If they pass healthcare, they go into a tough environment, but they have an accomplishment, plus one that will provide benefits,” Begala continued.

He noted that some provisions in the healthcare bill would go into law well before the election, including rules that would prevent health insurance companies from denying insurance to children based on pre-existing conditions.

The bill would also benefit seniors by closing the so-called “doughnut hole” by $500 before the election. The doughnut hole refers to a gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage in which people must pay 100 percent of the costs of their drugs once they hit a ceiling on their initial coverage. Once their costs rise to a second ceiling, the Medicare coverage kicks in again.

Provisions like these could be touted on the campaign trail, Begala said.

Democrats in the House need 216 members of their caucus to support the rule given what is expected to be unanimous GOP opposition. So far, it appears they are short of that tally.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who is a "no" vote, thinks his leadership is far short of 216.

“I'd be surprised if they have 200 votes,” he told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren on Monday night.

Stupak voted for the House healthcare bill in November, but opposes the Senate bill because he says it does not go far enough to prevent federal funds from being used for abortion services.

Stupak has said a dozen Democrats will vote against their leaders because of the abortion issue if their concerns aren’t addressed. Democratic leaders have said they cannot make changes to the abortion provisions.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), one of the chief authors of the Senate bill, said he’d prefer that House Democrats not use the self-executing rule, but acknowledged it may be necessary.

“If you asked me, 'Would you prefer to see this done without these exotic procedural moves?' absolutely,” Dodd said during an appearance on CNBC.

But the Connecticut Democrat went on to say that given the political situation, Democrats in the House might not have a choice.

“I would prefer we did this in a straight manner,” he said. “But you've seen what happened here politically.”

— Molly K. Hooper and Michael O’Brien contributed to this article.

This story was updated at 10:54 a.m.