House Democratic leaders Tuesday fought off criticism of what they see as a palatable strategy for passing health care legislation, while Republicans insisted on calling it an unpalatable "Slaughter Solution."
A complex maneuver, designed to free House members from having to vote directly on the controversial Senate version of the bill to overhaul the health care system, the Slaughter Solution got its name because Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, is chairwoman of the committee that would have to approve the process.
"The Slaughter Solution may sound like highly complicated and arcane parliamentary procedure, but its objective is very simple: an end run around the democratic process," said Rep. David T. Dreier of California, ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee that is headed by Slaughter.
Slaughter seemed nonplussed that her last name was being used to try to tar the Democrats as they close in on their singular goal: health care reform.
"I don't even mind that it's called the Slaughter Solution," she said. "I'm happy to have the solution."
Pushed primarily by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has not yet committed to using it, the proposed procedure calls on the House to pass a rule governing debate on a series of fixes to the Senate-passed health care bill -- while simultaneously "deeming" the Senate bill passed.
By combining the two votes, Democratic leaders would avoid forcing their members to take a stand-alone vote on the Senate measure, which includes an unpopular giveaway dubbed "the Cornhusker Kickback" that bought the vote of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.
The House fixes would eliminate that benefit to Nebraska, which would have forced the federal government to pay for new Medicaid enrollees in that state forever. In addition, the health care fixes reduce a tax on high-end health insurance plans that proved unpopular with unions and liberal Democrats.
Combining a vote on a procedural rule with a key piece of legislation is not common. But both parties have used the process, which dates from 1933 and which has been used to pass important legislation raising the federal debt ceiling, restricting immigration and creating a line-item veto that was later ruled unconstitutional.
Nevertheless, Democrats found themselves defending against a Republican fusillade.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said the effort to avoid a direct House vote on the Senate health bill was "the ultimate in Washington power grabs, a legislative ploy that lets Democrats defy the will of the American people."
Meanwhile, right-wing blogs were filled with talk that Slaughter was committing treason, the Wall Street Journal editorial page weighed in against what it called "Slaughter House Rules," and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said: "The House Democrats are ripping up the Constitution."
All of which, Democrats said, is ridiculous. "The idea that this is some wild-eyed radical, odd thing which would bring me up on treason charges is so absurd," Slaughter said. "And the people who are saying it absolutely know that."
Meanwhile, Pelosi told reporters: "I didn't hear any of that ferocity when the Republicans used this, perhaps hundreds of times."
While former federal judge Michael W. McConnell also questioned the maneuver's constitutionality in the Journal, Slaughter said the precedent for the procedure was well-established, and the House parliamentarian had ruled that it was fully constitutional.
On a practical level, Democrats said the Slaughter Solution may be the only way to attract enough liberal votes for the House to pass health care.
"There are a lot of members who don't want to have to vote for the Senate bill," said Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey, D-Calif.
Slaughter agreed, adding: "We do not want to be associated with the Cornhusker Kickback and all this other junk that's been put in there."
A careerlong advocate of health care reform, Slaughter stressed that what's important is the substance of the combined legislation, which would bring insurance to 31 million more Americans while barring insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.
"The government has no intent of running this thing," she said. "It's all going to be private insurance companies."
The proposal is likely to cost upward of $1 trillion, which is one big reason that Republicans such as Rep. Chris Lee of Clarence oppose it. "This has the potential for the government taking over health care," he said. "If we are considering this, we ought to have up-or-down votes."
Instead, Democrats said they were likely to follow the Slaughter Solution, a term apparently coined a week ago by Dave Schnittger, a blogger on Boehner's Web site.
Schnittger dubbed the Slaughter Solution "a twisted scheme by which Democratic leaders plan to bend the rules to ram President Obama's massive health care legislation through Congress."
Limbaugh said on his show Tuesday that voting for the Slaughter Solution would be political suicide for Democrats in November's elections.
In that vein, the Slaughter Solution's formal name is a "self-executing rule."
>The health care "fix"
Lawmakers are preparing a vote on a package of measures that would alter the Senate bill that offers health care to an additional 31 million Americans. Some key changes:
• The "Cornhusker Kickback" – which would have provided Nebraska with 100 percent federal funding for new Medicaid enrollees – would be eliminated. But the "Louisiana Purchase," a one-time $300 million Medicaid boost for Louisiana, remains in the bill.
• The bill would scale back a Senate-passed tax on high-cost insurance plans. The tax would be delayed from 2013 until 2018, and the thresholds at which it is imposed would be moved up from policies worth $8,500 for individuals and $23,000 for families to $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families.
• To compensate for that change, an increased Medicare payroll tax would be applied to investment income as well as wages for individuals making more than $200,000, or married couples above $250,000.
• While continuing to require that everyone have health insurance, the bill provides more generous subsidies for lower-income households purchasing insurance than the Senate bill did. The aid is available for households making up to four times the federal poverty level ($88,200 for a family of four).
Source: Associated Press