Nancy Pelosi and Louise Slaughter have come up with a parliamentary maneuver -- "deem and pass" -- reeking of evasiveness and trickery that Democratic members are going to have to embrace. But it gets better! The point of "deem and pass" is to allow representatives to vote directly only on the reconciliation "fixes" rather than on the Senate health care bill (which will be deemed to be passed if reconciliation passes). But the reconciliation "fixes" make the Senate bill even more politically unattractive.
Here's what Democrats will be asked to vote for Sunday (thanks to Keith Hennessey for his useful list):
* Additional tax increases, on top of the ones in the Senate bill. The reconciliation bill raises the Medicare payroll tax by 0.9% to a combined employer-employee 3.8% for individuals with income over $200K and couples over $250K, and, beginning in 2013, creates a new 3.8% tax on some capital income from interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, and rents for those individuals and families.
* Even deeper cuts to Medicare Advantage, which will mean fewer and less attractive Medicare Advantage plans available to seniors.
* Increases in the employer penalties for not complying with the mandates, which will hit all businesses with more than 50 employees.
Now, Democratic leaders will tell members that there are some popular things in the new package -- for example, the one-time $250 “rebate” in 2010 for seniors who reach the Medicare drug benefit coverage gap. But they're likely wrong that even this will be popular. In an era of concern about the deficit, the giveaway will be ridiculed as an attempt at pure election-year vote-buying, and will backfire.
What's more, the reconciliation bill the House will be voting on has several clear Byrd rule violations. Senate Republicans will be able to use the Byrd rule to strike these provisions from the bill. So if the Senate then passes a modified reconciliation bill, it will return it to the House, which will have to vote on a version of this bill AGAIN.
The Democrats would actually be better off -- well, less worse off -- simply voting to pass the Senate bill. But by embracing the Slaughter Rule and this package of reconciliation fixes, they've managed to make a bad political situation for themselves worse. Congratulations!