(CNSNews.com) – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) won't rule out having the House vote on the Senate health-care bill without making any changes in it, which would allow the bill to go directly to President Barack Obama without having to pass through a House-Senate conference committee and another round of votes in the House and Senate--and a longer period of public scrutiny of what the text of the proposed law actually says.
“I won’t rule it out or in because I don’t know what the package is,” Hoyer told CNSNews.com on Tuesday.
"However, content will be critical in what action the House takes,” he added a moment later.
Under the proposal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would offer the Senate’s version of health reform as an amendment to a House-passed bill, H.R. 1586, which levies a 90-percent tax on bonuses received this year by employees of financial institutions that took at least $5 billion in government bailout money. Reid's amendment would strip out the substance of H.R. 1586 as passed by the House and replace it with the entirety of the Senate health care bill.
As a senior aide to Reid explained to CNSNews.com, this would be done because the Constitution only allows the House to initiate revenue bills, and since the Senate health care bill contains revenue provisions it technically cannot be initiated in the Senate. By being amended into the "shell" of H.R. 1586, which is a House-initiated revenue bill, the Senate health care bill would technically become a House bill.
If Reid can muster enough votes (60) to overcome a filibuster of this maneuver and filibusters of any amendments subsequently made to the bill, Senate Democrats could pass their health care bill and send it back to the House, where it nominally originated. See related story here.
Normally, when a bill is passed in two different versions, negotiators from both the House and Senate meet in a conference committee to amend the bill and arrive at a final version, which is then passed by both chambers and sent to the president.
However, if the House were to pass H.R. 1586 when it comes back from the Senate without adding any amendments, the bill would not need to go to a conference committee and could be sent straight to the president for his signature.
Such a course of events could greatly shorten the time the public has to study and debate the final text of the health care bill--which will be crafted by Senate Majority Leader Reid in consultation with whomever he chooses to consult. News reports say Reid's office is now working closely with the White House on the final language of the bill.
On Tuesday, CNSNews.com asked Hoyer: “The Senate is considering using H.R. 1586--a bill that already passed the House, some bonuses received by TARP recipients--as a shell to hold their health care bill. In other words, they would amend 1586 to include their entire language of their health bill and then send it to the House.
“If that happens, will you rule out holding a direct vote on the Senate health care package in that form, which would send it to the president without amending it or sending it to conference?”
Hoyer said: “Well, I won’t rule it out or in because I don’t know what that package is, nor does the Senate at this point [because] they still have the necessity to harmonize the HELP [Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee] bill and the Finance [Committee] bill. So it would be premature for me to answer that question because I don’t know exactly what form it’s going to be in.
“Having said that, obviously the reason they’re doing that, as you well understand, is because there are component parts of their bill that would need to be generated in the House, under the Constitution would need to be initiated by the House. That’s a House bill and it’s a useful vehicle for them to use, so that is why it would be premature for me to say that I support moving that as is at this point in time.”
CNSNews.com: “So it depends on the content of the bill, not the way they get it to the House?”
Hoyer: “Yep. Constitutionally, there are some reasons why it has to be a House bill. However, content will be critical in what action the House takes.”