The Slaughter Rule: Unprecedented

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Congressional democrats promoting the use of the so-called "Slaughter rule" - a self-executing or "deem and pass" rule that would allow the House of Representatives to "deem" as passed the Senate health care bill without bringing the bill to the floor of the House for consideration are attempting to rationalize their actions by claiming that Republicans have used self-executing rules in the past, and that, therefore, their opposition to the Slaughter rule is hypocritical.

On the surface, their claim sounds rather damning for Republicans, such as Mike Pence, who oppose the Slaughter rule. However, upon closer inspection, the democrats' claim proves specious.

Mike Pence: Hypocrite?

Democrats claim that Pence has voted for a self-executing rule three times. Let us examine those votes.

HR1003 (109th Congress, 2006)

HR1003 reads as follows:

Resolved, That upon adoption of this resolution, House Resolution 1000, amended by the amendment in the nature of a substitute recommended by the Committee on Rules now printed in the resolution, is hereby adopted.

Thus, HR1003 used a self-executing rule to deem as passed HR1000, which modifies the order of proceedings for the House of Representatives.. However, this use of a self-executing rule differs from the Slaughter rule in two critical aspects:

  1. HR1000 was a resolution that amended the order of proceedings for the House of Representatives. It was not a legislative act.
  2. HR1000 was originally brought to the floor of the House, and was referred to and amended by the Rules Committee. The use of the self-executing rule in HR1003 merely allowed House members to deem as passed the resolution as amended by the Rules Committee, rather than bringing the resolution to the floor again. Thus, the use of the self-executing rule was intended to circumvent normal House procedure, not to avoid voting on HR1000.

Verdict: the use of a self-executing rule in HR1003 in order to deem HR1000 as passed does not invalidate opposition to use of the Slaughter rule to deem the Senate health care bill as passed.

H.Res.653 (109th Congress, 2006)

H.Res.653 reads as follows:

Resolved, That the House hereby concurs in the Senate amendment to the House amendment to the bill (S. 1932) to provide for reconciliation pursuant to section 202(a) of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2006 (H. Con. Res. 95).

H.Res.653 represents the passage of a conference report for the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, and is a classic example of how bills typically become law in the U.S. Congress:

  1. The House or Senate (always the latter, if the bill involves levying taxes) passes a bill
  2. The other chamber considers and passes the same bill.
  3. If the second chamber amends the bill as passed by the first chamber, either the first chamber must pass the bill as amended by the second chamber, or else (as is typically the case), the two chambers seat a Conference Committee to iron out the differences between the two versions of the bill. The outcome of this process is known as a Conference Report.
  4. Both the House and the Senate then each pass the Conference Report, and the bill is then presented to the president.

In fact, the 109th Congress followed this process exactly in enacting the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005:

  1. The Senate passed S.1932 on November 03, 2005.
  2. The House passed H.R.4241 on November 18, 2005.
  3. The two bills were reconciled via Conference Report.
  4. The House passed the Conference Report on February 01, 2006, via H.Res.653.
  5. The Senate passed the Conference Report on February 08, 2006, via S.Con.Res.80.

Thus, H.Res.653 used a self-executing rule to deem as passed the Conference Report for S.1932, which the House originally passed as H.R.4241. However, it also differs from the Slaughter rule in two critical aspects:

  1. H.Res.653 deemed as passed a bill on which the House of Representatives had already voted: H.R.4241.
  2. H.Res.653 did not further modify the Conference Report for S.1932/H.R.4241. The Slaughter rule attempts to deem as "passed" the Senate health care bill, while at the same time amending that same bill. (The Slaughter rule "deems as passed" the Senate bill only upon House passage of a Reconciliation bill that amends the Senate bill.) Thus, the House will be engrossing a bill that it has at the same time amended.

Verdict: the use of a self-executing rule in H.Res.653 in order to deem the S.1932/H.R.4241 Conference Report as passed does not invalidate opposition to use of the Slaughter rule to deem the Senate health care bill as passed.

H.Res.572 (109th Congress, 2005)

The germane section of H.Res.572 reads as follows:

SEC. 2. Upon adoption of this resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 308 is hereby adopted.

Thus, the self-executing rule of H.Res.572 deems as passed a "technical correction", per H.Res.308, in the enrollment of H.R.3058 (an appropriations bill). However, it also differs from the Slaughter rule in two critical aspects:

  1. H.Res.572 merely deemed as passed a "technical correction" to a bill on which the House of Representatives had <em>already voted</em>: H.R.3058.
  2. H.Res.572 did not further modify the H.R.3058. The Slaughter rule attempts to deem as "passed" the Senate health care bill, while at the same time <em>amending</em> that same bill. (The Slaughter rule "deems as passed" the Senate bill only upon House passage of a Reconciliation bill that <em>amends</em> the Senate bill.) Thus, the House will be engrossing a bill that it has at the same time amended.

Verdict: the use of a self-executing rule in H.Res.572 in order to deem as passed a "technical correction" amendment to the already engrossed H.R.3058 does not invalidate opposition to use of the Slaughter rule to deem the Senate health care bill as passed.

Verdict: Mike Pence

Pence's opposition to the Slaughter rule cannot be considered to be hypocritical with respect to his previous support of self-executing rules in the House. None of his previous votes represents, supports, or justifies the intent of the Slaughter rule, since, in all cases in which Pence voted for a self-executing rule, he was doing so with respect to bills that had already been voted on and passed by the House.

Bonus: Et Tu, Steny?

Liberals in the media are bending over backward to paint the Republicans as hypocrites on the self-executing rule issue - but, ironically, in so doing, they merely display the hypocrisy of the Democrats. Consider Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader. Time, that bastion of liberal group-think, quotes a hyperventilating Hoyer in 2003. After complaining about the Republican majority limiting debate in the House (paging Nancy Pelosi... paging Nancy Pelosi...), Hoyer unloads this corker:

Not content with the denying the Minority to offer amendments and substitutes, the Majority has even refused to permit Democrats the chance to vote on the Majority's own bills. That is precisely what happened on June 12. This being the 23rd, that was 13 days ago. When the Republican leadership reported a self-executing rule providing for the adoption of the $82 billion plan over 10 years and an almost trillion-dollar plan over 20 years, accelerating the increased child tax credit for low-income people families, we didn't even get an opportunity to vote on the bill itself except by reference in a self-executing rule. What kind of lack of confidence does that display? What kind of process in pursuit of effectiveness does that mean that we are adopting? What kind of demeaning of democracy is the objective of efficiency resulting in? I would remiss to fail to note that barely 1 hour later, the House passed on a bipartisan vote -- you talk about bipartisan votes -- a nonbinding motion to instruct the conferees to accept the substantially more responsible Senate version of that bill, doing exactly the opposite of what a half an hour the House had voted on. Why? Because it had no full debate, and it was very ambivalent, and we knew the House was ambivalent, and you knew the House was ambivalent, and you were afraid, fearful that 12 or 15 Republicans, if allowed to vote on the substance as opposed to voting procedurally on a rule where party loyalty is so important, you were afraid to put the substance to the test of democracy, fearful that you would lose 12 to 15, and we would prevail in our position. House Democrats, of course, are trying to offer the same Senate bill as the substitute, but the Republican Majority blocked us from doing so.

Wow, sounds bad, huh? Sounds exactly like the Slaughter rule, doesn't it?

Except, it isn't.

Notice, if you will, Hoyer's mention of conferees. Why, those would be the sitting members of a Conference Committee, who return Conference Reports. That means that the House of Representatives had already voted on and passed the bill in question. The Conference Report regarded H.R.1308, which passed the house by a voice vote. The self-executing rule to deem the Conference Report as passed was in H.Res.270, which passed by roll-call vote. When Hoyer claims that the minority didn't get to vote on the bill, he is lying.

Dare I say it? Hoyer's ardent defense of the Slaughter rule is the epitome of hypocrisy. To wit, here is what Hoyer has to say about the Slaughter rule:

“We’re going to vote on a bill, on a rule, which would provide for the result that, if a majority are for it, that will adopt a bill, the Senate bill, which has had extensive debate, extensive exposure,” Hoyer said.

“Does anybody in this room doubt that you have to vote on that?” he said. “We will vote on it, in one form or another.”

I rest my case.

Other Self-Executing Rules in Republican-Controlled Houses

Clerical/Technical Corrections to Already Passed Bills

The following House Resolutions represent self-executing rules to deem as passed "clerical" or "technical" correction amendments to bills that have already been voted on and passed by the House:

  • H.Res.180, 104th Congress, 1995 (amending a Conference Report)
  • H.Res.393, 104th Congress, 1995 (amending a Conference Report)
  • H.Res.232, 105th Congress, 1997 (amending a Conference Report)
  • H.Res.71, 108th Congress, 2003 (amending a Conference Report)

All of the above uses of the self-executing rule apply only to amendments to bills already voted on and passed by the House of Representatives. As such, these House Resolutions do not justify the Slaughter rule to "deem as passed" the Senate health care bill, which the House has never brought to the floor for debate, much less voted and passed.

Consideration of Conference Reports

The following House Resolutions represent self-executing rules to deem as passed the Conference Report to already passed House bills:

  • H.Res.63, 1933
  • H.Res.510, 1948
  • H.Res.391, 104th Congress, 1996

All of the above uses of the self-executing rule apply only to deeming as passed Conference Reports for bills already voted on and passed by the House of Representatives. As such, these House Resolutions do not justify the Slaughter rule to "deem as passed" the Senate health care bill, which the House has never brought to the floor for debate, much less voted and passed.

Specifying House Procedures in Consideration of Other Bills

The following House Resolutions represent self-executing rules to specify the procedures and rules of debate in consideration of other House bills:

  • H.Res.336, 104th Congress, 1996
    (specifying the rules of debate for another bill under consideration by the House)
  • H.Res.386, 106th Congress, 1999
    (tabling a Conference Report)

The above use of the self-executing rule applies only to specifying the procedures and rules of debate for other bills under consideration by the House. These self-executing rules do not deem any bill to be passed. The first represents merely a procedural motion, and the second tables a Conference Report. As such, these House Resolutions do not justify the Slaughter rule to "deem as passed" the Senate health care bill, which the House has never brought to the floor for debate, much less voted and passed.

Summary

The 12 uses of self-executing rules referenced above break down as follows:

  • Consideration (passage or tabling) of Conference Reports: 5
  • Passage of clerical or technical correction amendments to Conference Reports: 5
  • Passage of rules of procedure for the House: 2

None of the referenced uses of a self-executing rule represent passage of a bill that has never been brought to the floor of, debated, and voted on by the House of Representatives. Thus, none of the above referenced uses of a self-executing rule justify, rationalize, or support the use of the Slaughter rule to "deem as passed" the Senate health care bill.

The use of the Slaughter rule to "deem as passed" the Senate health care bill, which has never been brought to the floor of, debated, or voted on by the House of Representatives is, therefore, unprecedented.