Conservatives and polling experts are predicting that the use of exotic parliamentary maneuvers to force healthcare reforms through Congress will trigger a political bloodbath for Democrats come November.
"Do not underestimate the knowledge and level of engagement among the voters," conservative pollster Kellyanne Conway tells Newsmax.
To Democrats, Conway warns: Voters "will not forget this fall how you ignored them this spring."
Conway points to recent Polling Company surveys involving 1,200 voters in 35 swing congressional districts. Her findings paint an alarming picture for Democrats up for re-election.
Seven in 10 respondents to Conway's poll said they would vote against any House member who votes for the Senate healthcare bill, which has been roundly criticized for its special-interest provisions used to win the votes of Senate Democrats.
"The arrogance of the Democrats' push is astounding, and they'll pay for this for a long time," former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino predicts. "I'm not sure how they recover trust from the American people that feel they're just being railroaded."
Democrats and left-leaning pundits see the situation quite differently, of course. Democrats, they point out, are already linked to the healthcare reform proposals. They might as well go all in, get the bill passed, and have something to show for it, they say.
Democrats also appear to be betting that Americans won't pay much attention to the "inside baseball" of how legislation actually gets passed.
This appeared to be the approach that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took Tuesday when he dismissed complaints about the pending legislative maneuvers as part of "a legislative process game."
History suggests Democrats are correct in their view that interest in how Washington gets legislation passed is minimal. University of Virginia Center for Politics director Dr. Larry J. Sabato, author of “The Year of Obama,” offers an interesting anecdote that illustrates this point.
He tells Newsmax that he gave a speech to an upscale, well-educated audience in early March. When he started talking about reconciliation — one of the methods Democrats plan to use to move their bill forward — he saw lots of quizzical faces.
Says Sabato: "Someone came up afterward and said, 'I had always thought reconciliation was a good thing, as in marriages.'"
Under reconciliation, Congress agrees on general objectives, then uses reconciliation to plug in specific numbers later. Reconciliation usually is used on a bipartisan basis to streamline legislative debates and amendments related to budget-related legislation.
Democrats have announced that they intend to use reconciliation to pass the president's healthcare reform proposals. Doing so means they need only a majority — 51 votes — rather than the 60 votes needed to bring a bill to the Senate floor.
Republicans will try to persuade voters to reconsider their usual apathy when it comes to parliamentary procedure.
"But if Republicans make noise about these things," Sabato tells Newsmax, "and use the right language — calling the procedures ‘sleight of hand,’ ‘deception,’ and ‘trickery’ — then it’s possible that a bad odor will linger.
"After all," Sabato says, "the public has turned off to healthcare reform in part because they have seen the sausage-making process, and [they] regard some of the sausage as rotten …"
Of special concern: Pelosi is considering passing a "self-executive rule," also known as "deem and pass." That method of legislative sausage-making involves declaring that a bill has been passed in a reconciliation measure specifying how the bill is to be amended, without ever actually voting on the original Senate bill.
By using deem and pass, representatives running for re-election in moderate districts could presumably deny they ever voted for the unpopular Senate bill.
"Deem and pass" also has been dubbed the Slaughter Solution or Slaughter Rule, so named after House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.
Democrats on the House Rules Committee say there is plenty of precedent for the "deem and pass" technique, also known as a "self-executing rule," which Republicans also have used.
In 1993, it was employed to adjust House Resolution 71, the "Family Medical Leave Act." In 1996, it was used in House Resolution 391, "The Senior Citizens' Right to Work Act."
Conservatives counter that there is a vast difference between using "deem and pass" as a convenient, bipartisan way to enact modest changes to relatively routine legislation, and using it as a partisan tool to force a major entitlement program through Congress.
"There is no precedent for what they're trying to do in the House right now," Brian Darling, the Heritage Foundation's director of Senate relations, tells Newsmax. "There is precedent for using deeming regulations and self-executing rules. But in this situation they're trying to set up a circumstance where the House will pass a bill with no vote being taken on it, and at the same time pass a reconciliation measure. So that makes it unprecedented."
A Washington Post editorial proclaimed Tuesday that using deem and pass "may help some House members dodge a politically difficult decision, but it strikes us as a dodgy way to reform the healthcare system. Democrats who vote for the package will be tagged with supporting the Senate bill in any event. Why not be straightforward about it?"
As that editorial suggests, Democrats face a complication: The mainstream media may not provide them cover on this one.
"The Bush administration not only would never have gotten away with this — it would not have tried it in the first place," Perino tells Newsmax. "When it was clear that the president's Social Security reform plan was not popular and was facing steep resistance, Bush didn't try ridiculous procedural maneuvers to get the bill done."
Given the bill's flagging popularity with voters, media criticisms of the process could become a serious problem.
Democratic leaders attribute the bill's unpopularity — the latest Rasmussen Reports poll shows 53 percent against it, compared with 43 percent in favor — to the American people's lack of understanding. Republicans counter that after a yearlong debate voters know full well what's in the bill, and they just don't like it.
If Pelosi can get the legislation through Congress, then look for a full-court press to explain its benefits to the American people. But there may not be enough time to reverse the tide of voter opinion, sources say.
"Assuming the bill passes the House on Saturday, there will be 227 days left before voters head to the polls on Nov. 2," noted Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post's The Fix blog. "That means a more abbreviated time line for the White House to sell the bill post-passage than they had pre-passage.
"Passage of the bill seems — to us — near-inevitable given what the White House believes is at stake. But, passing the legislation may look like a cakewalk when compared to the task of reversing public opinion about the bill that Democrats will face between now and November," he says.
Former Clinton strategist, pollster, and Fox News commentator Douglas Schoen tells Newsmax that, if House leaders use deem and pass, and reconciliation, to squeeze healthcare reform through Congress, "it would be doubly toxic for Democrats."
"The Republicans will make the argument, I think credibly so, that someone how the rules were changed to get this passed. That would serve as a rallying cry for Republicans to energize their base and get them to turn out in November."
Schoen goes so far as to predict that enacting Obamacare via the special maneuvers may cost Democrats one, and possibly both, houses of Congress.
"If the Democrats use deem and pass as a means of passing a demonstrably unpopular bill, they will have given the Republicans two significant and substantial arguments — regarding the size of government and the way government operates — that could well lead one or both house of Congress to go into Republican hands," Schoen says.
"Put another way," he adds, "the Democratic Party is unpopular now, will be more unpopular still if they pass healthcare, and will run the risk of further inflaming their political opposition if they use procedures that are not perceived as fully in accord with congressional procedures or constitutional requirements."
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