WASHINGTON As lawmakers clashed fiercely over major health care legislation on the House floor, Democrats struggled Tuesday to defend procedural shortcuts they might use to win approval for their proposals in the next few days.
House Democrats are so skittish about the piece of legislation that is now the vehicle for overhauling the health care system the bill passed by the Senate in December that they are considering a maneuver that would allow them to pass it without explicitly voting for it.
Under that approach, House Democrats would approve a package of changes to the Senate bill in a budget reconciliation bill. The Senate bill would be deemed passed if and when the House adopts rules for debate on the reconciliation bill or perhaps when the House passes that reconciliation bill.
The idea is to package the changes and the underlying bill together in a way that amounts to an amended bill in a single vote. Many House Democrats dislike some provisions of the Senate bill, including special treatment for a handful of states, like Medicaid money for Nebraska, and therefore want to avoid a direct vote on it.
Republicans paraded to the House floor on Tuesday to denounce the maneuver as a parliamentary trick. Representative Ted Poe, Republican of Texas, said Democrats were using a sneaky snake oil gimmick to pass their bill. Lets have an up-or-down vote on this bill and not hide behind some procedural mumbo jumbo, Mr. Poe said.
At the White House on Tuesday, the debate over procedural tactics proved uncomfortable for President Obamas press secretary, Robert Gibbs. He sidestepped numerous questions about whether Mr. Obama wanted an explicit, separate vote on the Senate bill and deferred to Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
The final decision is the speakers, Mr. Gibbs said.
Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland and assistant to the speaker, said Republicans were trying to deceive the public about the legislation that Democrats were working on.
They want to send a signal to the American people that the product that is going to come out of the House is the Senate bill, but the fact of the matter is we are amending the Senate bill, Mr. Van Hollen said. We are going to get rid of the Nebraska deal. We are going to get rid of other provisions in the Senate bill that shouldnt have been there.