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Pelosi Crafts Health Strategy

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday that she is considering a maneuver that would allow her Members to avoid a direct vote on the Senate health care bill later this week, sparking outrage from Republicans who accused her of trying to avoid accountability.

Pelosi said Monday that she is considering a rule that would automatically enact the Senate bill without a separate vote when the reconciliation bill containing a series of “fixes” is passed on the House floor.

That would allow Democrats to avoid taking a difficult, separate vote on a Senate bill many dislike because it contains special deals for Nebraska, Florida, Louisiana and other states. Instead, Members could tout their vote for the larger package.

House Republicans said they cannot block the maneuver but ripped it as an abuse.

“There is nothing that can prevent it,” said Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Rules Committee. “It’s something they can clearly do if they have the votes.”

Pelosi said she had not yet decided whether to use the procedure, however.

“When we get our CBO score and our decisions from the Senate Parliamentarian, when we have the substance, then we will decide on the process,” Pelosi said.

Dreier ripped the plan as “trying to avoid the accountability of an up-or-down vote” and said it violated Pelosi’s pledge of an open and transparent Congress. “It pains me to see,” he said.

The reconciliation bill is expected to delete some of those special Senate deals, delay an excise tax on high-cost health insurance plans and include a host of other popular changes sought by the House.

[IMGCAP(1)]Dreier charged that the self-executing rule was unprecedented, even though Republicans and Democrats have regularly used similar self-executing rules to deem passage of debt limit increases.

“The issue of increasing the debt ceiling is something that is regularly addressed,” he said. “There’s nothing that’s ever been done like this before.”

Pelosi, meanwhile, reiterated earlier statements that the Senate bill’s immigration and abortion provisions could not be changed by the reconciliation bill, in a message clearly aimed at a number of lawmakers demanding changes that she says cannot happen.

“It has to relate to the budget. It has to be about the bottom line. … We cannot deal with other language in a budget reconciliation bill,” she said.

Pelosi said the bill does not fund abortions and said she “will not be deterred by any misrepresentation as to what the language does.”

Democrats on Monday began the process of bringing the bill to the floor, with the House Budget Committee forwarding reconciliation instructions to the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee will rewrite the bill with language agreed upon between House and Senate Democratic leaders and the White House, with a vote expected later this week or over the weekend.

While the House ties itself in knots over how to proceed to the bill, Senate Democrats have been trying to make sure the bill is written in a way to avoid 60-vote budget points of order.

Republicans have vowed to comb through the bill to find any failure to abide by strict reconciliation rules that require every provision to have a budget impact. If the Senate Parliamentarian deems a provision does not meet the rules, 60 votes are needed to keep the clause in the bill, but the 59-member Senate Democratic Conference is unlikely to persuade any Republicans to help them keep the bill intact.

“Both House and Senate authors have been very careful to make sure that each provision is written so that it’s not susceptible to a point of order,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said. “That’s one of the reasons it’s taken as long as it has.”

The aide added that Senate leaders are consulting with the Parliamentarian “when there are questions about whether something is subject to a point of order.”

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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