The Slaughter Solution, And Other Tactics For Passing Health Reform


If you watch cable news this weekend (which, if you a normal and well-adjusted person, you probably won't), you'll likely hear a lot of discussion about the so-called Slaughter Solution, a procedural manuever that House Democrats are considering in hopes of making it easier to pass health care reform. NRO's Daniel Foster and Slate's John Dickerson have posted detailed explanations, but the gist is this: Rather than vote up or down on the Senate bill (which many House Democrats don't like), the House would instead vote to pass a reconciliation bill that amends the Senate bill. Attached to the reconciliation bill would be a rule that says that once it's passed, the original Senate bill is automatically considered passed too.

The result is that House Democrats get to vote for the reconciliation fixes but can say that, technically, they never voted to pass the bad Senate bill.

Will they actually go through with it? At The Daily Caller, Jon Ward suggests that chances are strong that they will. I don't entirely doubt that House Democrats are considering the move, but I'm skeptical that it will provide much political benefit, or that it will actually address the major barriers to reform.

For one thing, the legitimacy of the procedure—and thus the legislation it produces—will almost certainly be called into question; Republicans will no doubt portray this as the Ultimate Procedural Gimmick. That's not likely to play well with a public already wary of various side deals and gimmicks.

It's also tough to see what advantages Democrats actually stand to gain from going this route. I understand that they want to avoid being seen as voting for health reform. (Indeed, The Hill is reporting that many Democrats running in November are skittish about talking about this bill at all) But they'll still have to vote for the reconciliation bill. Given that doing so will trigger the passage of the original Senate bill, why wouldn't any opponent still run ads noting a candidate's support for ObamaCare? "Technically, I didn't vote for it, I only voted for an amending bill that triggered it" isn't a very convincing rebutal.

Nor does it do much to solve the Senate trust problem. Once the House passes the Senate bill/reconciliation bill combo, the Senate will still have to decide whether it will also pass the reconciliation bill. As far as I can tell, even if the House employed the Slaughter Solution, it would remain possible for the Senate to decline to pass the amendments in the reconciliation bill.

On the other hand, Democrats did make one move today that's likely to give them a better shot at passage: bunding the health care reconciliation bill with the student loan bill—which, as Philip Klein explains, has enough popular support that it might increase the chances for health care to pass:

The student loan bill comfortably passed the House with 253 votes, including those from 34 Democrats who voted against the health care bill. Thus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be thinking that if she can induce some of those Democrats into supporting a health care bill by attaching it to something they like, it may be able to make up for whatever defections she'll have within her caucus due to abortion or other concerns. 

So, as I understand it, if this strategy works, here's what will happen. First, the House will vote on the reconciliation bill that 1) includes the student loan bill 2) amends the Senate bill and 3) triggers the passage of the Senate bill in the House. After that happens, the Senate will have the option to vote on the reconciliation bill, thus passing both the student loan legislation and the changes to the health bill.

And what about the language governing federal funding for abortion? So far, it's been the biggest potential hurdle, but perhaps Democratic leadership has found a way forward. As of this afternoon, it looks like Stupak's not going to flip. But according to an interview Stupak gave with NRO, several (at least) of the dozen pro-lifers in his faction likely will.

What are Democratic leaders saying? "If you pass the Stupak amendment, more children will be born, and therefore it will cost us millions more. That's one of the arguments I've been hearing," Stupak says. "Money is their hang-up. Is this how we now value life in America?"

…"Throughout this debate, even when the House leaders have acknowledged us, it's always been in a backhanded way," he laments. "I'm telling the other [pro-life Democrats] to hold firm, and we'll meet next week, but I'm disappointed in my colleagues who said they'd be with us and now they're not. It's almost like some right-to-life members don't want to be bothered. They just want this over."

In this way, at least, health care's long slog may have actually worked to Democrats' advantage; at a certain point in a drawn-out debate like this, it becomes tougher to bristle in opposition and easier to look for ways to give in. I don't think this is a done deal by any means—the immigration issue hasn't been resolved yet, and there's still no firm indication that the necessary votes really do exist—but after Pelosi's no good, very bad day yesterday, passage is certainly looking somewhat more likely.