House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: 'We're Going to Have a Clean Up or Down Vote'

Steny Hoyer defends controversial parliamentary tactic.

ByHUMA KHAN via logo
March 17, 2010, 7:20 AM

March 17, 2010— -- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer today hinted that Democrats may use a controversial parliamentary procedure to pass the health care bill, a tactic that House Minority Whip Eric Cantor charged would be an attempt to fool the public.

"We're going to have a clean up or down vote on the Senate bill, that will be on the rule," Hoyer, D-Md., said on "Good Morning America" today. "This is not an unusual procedure. We're going to vote on a rule."

The controversial procedure would allow House members to vote on health care changes without ever voting directly on the Senate bill. In this case, the House would vote on a "fix it" measure that would make changes to the Senate health care bill and then automatically, in the process, pass the bill without actually having to vote on it.

The procedure has been used 20 times over the last 30 years by both Democrats and Republicans, often on technical or unpopular measures like raising the debt limit, but never on one as big as health care reform.

"Unfortunately, the Republicans are a little bit like the boy who killed his two parents and then wants sympathy because they're an orphan. They've tried to stop the passage of this bill, slowed it up," Hoyer said. "We'll vote for the Senate bill in the rule, and then we will amend the Senate bill in the process."

Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said the House rules allow for the use of this "deeming" provision but charged that the move is an attempt to fool the public.

"Again, when you're dealing with a bill like this that will cost a trillion dollars, and it will affect health care for every man, woman and child in this country, I don't think you can fool the public," Cantor said on "GMA." "This is an attempt to hide the vote. There's no doubt about it."

Some Republicans say using the parliamentary procedure will result in endless litigation because the move is unconstitutional. But Cantor today wouldn't say if the House Republican leadership will challenge the constitutionality of such a move.

"I'm not a constitutional lawyer, so I don't know about the Constitution," Cantor said. "I do know it's an attempt to hide the vote on this trillion dollar health care bill."

Hoyer said today Democratic leaders would have enough votes for the health care bill when it comes to the floor even as Cantor argued that was unlikely.

"On every major piece of legislation we passed over the last year ... we said we think we do [have the votes] and yes we did," Hoyer said on "GMA." "We think we'll have the votes when the roll is called."

Democratic leaders are hoping to convince the 37 lawmakers who voted against the health care bill the first time around, including Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who has argued that the bill doesn't go far enough to protect the American people. Kucinich, who was invited to accompany President Obama on Air Force One this week on his trip to Ohio, will announce this morning how he plans to vote. If Kucinich decides to change his vote to a "Yes," it will be an important win for the president and Democrats, but there would still be 15 other lawmakers who are undecided and 21 who have said they will vote "No."

Cantor predicts that Democrats are unlikely to garner the 216 votes they need to vote on the Senate health care bill in the House without having to use the controversial parliamentary tactic.

"Obviously, they don't have the votes yet. I know they're working very hard," Cantor said. "The problem is I think there's a lot of uncertainty still surrounding this bill and frankly the American people, I think, think that there's a better way."

Health Care Debate Heats Up

House Democratic leaders are pushing hard for a vote by Saturday, before Obama leaves for his international trip.

With time running out, Democratic leaders met until late into the night, gearing up for the final battle over health care.

On Tuesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters she is waiting on numbers from the Congressional Budget Office analyzing the cost of Obama's health care bill, which proposes "fixes" to the Senate health care bill passed on Christmas Eve. But she reiterated that Democratic leaders will continue to fight for the health care bill despite objections from Republicans.

"We will do whatever is necessary to pass a health care bill," said Pelosi.

The opposition has stepped up the heat on lawmakers. On Tuesday, tea party protestors gathered once again on Capitol Hill to denounce the bill. Holding signs and chanting "Kill the Bill," the riled-up attendees took their protests into the halls of Congress, even though many lawmakers were not in their offices.

The congressional switchboard was overloaded for most of the day after conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh gave out two toll-free numbers for the public to call and urge their lawmakers to vote against the bill.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of dirty tricks.

"Last year, they [Democrats] thought they could pass a bill without having to read it. This year they want us to pass a bill without having to vote on it," Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., charged at a rally Tuesday.

Obama continues to telephone skeptical lawmakers to urge them to vote for the bill. In an exclusive interview with ABC News on Monday, he expressed confidence there would be enough votes in the House to pass the health care legislation.

"I believe we are going to get the votes, we're going to make this happen," Obama said in an interview with ABC News' Jake Tapper.

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