House GOP Uses Once-Reviled Tactic for Budget Measure

Posted April 17, 2012 at 6:46pm

House Republican leaders used an arcane legislative maneuver to enforce Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s financial blueprint Tuesday, highlighting how quickly a procedure maligned when in the minority can become a useful tool when in control of the gavel — and vice versa.

Despite cries of hypocrisy from Democrats, Republicans used the self-executing rule — informally known as “deem and pass” — to tack the Wisconsin Republican’s budget onto an easily passable bill, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act.

The term might sound familiar. In the last Congress, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) considered using the procedure to pass the sweeping health care reform law.

Pelosi eventually decided against using the procedure, but not before Republicans cried foul, giving it nicknames such as “demon pass” and “scheme and plot.”

Pelosi also used the process in 2010 to deem budget numbers without actually passing a budget, a process to which Ryan and then-Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) objected. But on Tuesday, the nicknames came from the other side of the aisle.

Republicans’ “dream and pass,” according to a memo circulated by House Democratic leadership, is a sign that the GOP has forgotten its past convictions.

Gerrit Lansing, a spokesman for Ryan, said the procedure is different from the move Democrats discussed during the health care debate.

“The glaring difference is that we’re trying to do our jobs in the House of Representatives by giving an already-passed resolution the power to guide our work in the House — we’re not trying to circumvent democracy by passing a law this way, much less a takeover of 17 percent of the economy,” he said, referencing
the health care law. “We’re trying to fix a sequester that everyone wants fixed and yet no one is willing to advance solutions for. When Democrats decide to take seriously our generation’s defining challenge, we’ll be glad to have them join the table of adults who are working to solve our debt crisis.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson told reporters earlier in the day that he thinks the procedure is being used to avoid another floor debate on unpopular legislation.

“They’re deeming it because they know that it can’t stand up to the scrutiny,” the Connecticut lawmaker said. “We’re making it known that this is not the right process, this is not fairness.”

In effect, however, the debate turned into another discussion on Ryan’s budget anyway, during which Pelosi and other Democrats accused Republicans of trying to “end the Medicare guarantee.”

Pelosi took to the House floor to accuse Republicans of “trying to fool the American people.”

“They want to ‘deem and pass’ it using a procedural trick to pretend that both the House and the Senate have signed off on their radical agenda,” she said.

Earlier in the day, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer argued that while both sides have done it, Republicans are being hypocritical because they insisted during the 2010 elections that they would no longer use such procedural maneuvers.

“Now, they have done it before, we have done it ourselves,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters. “You will remember our Republican friends, how much they thought deeming was dishonest.”

Republicans, however, insisted that the process is necessary in order to move on with the budget process because the Senate has not passed a budget.

Representing his party on the floor, Rep. Rob Bishop said the House passed a budget in regular order this year, which House Democrats did not in 2010. The procedure would only be in effect until a budget is actually passed. In the meantime, the process allows appropriators to pass their bills and allows Republicans to replace a scheduled across-the-board cut to defense through the budget reconciliation process.

“We can only move forward in doing the work of this Congress … if we have certain procedural issues done in advance,” the Utah Republican said. “Sometime, the Senate has to do their work. Hopefully, they do it soon, and then this issue will be moot.”

The procedure is being resurrected now because a budget resolution, such as the budget passed by the House last month, does not have the force of law. Because the Senate has not passed a budget that it can reconcile with the House-passed document, the House Rules Committee tacked the budget numbers onto the rule for another bill.

In this case, it was a bill that would promote hunting and fishing on public lands and exempt bullets and fishing lures from the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Doing so allows the House to enforce a fiscal 2013 spending cap of $1.028 trillion instead of the $1.047 trillion cap agreed to last year in the Budget Control Act.

The committee released a long explainer justifying its decision to deem the budget.

“The Rules of the House and the enforcement mechanisms in the Budget Act rely on the numbers in a budget agreed to by both House and Senate to ensure that Congress doesn’t overspend,” the statement read. “When the Senate refuses to act, the House must take steps to ensure that it can responsibly proceed with the appropriations and budget process.

“While we’d prefer an agreed-upon budget resolution, it is essential that some budget enforcement be put in place,” the statement continued. “Absent Senate action on its own budget and a House-Senate agreement, the House cannot move forward on key budget priorities.”