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Actually, The Process Does Matter

Why the Democrats are wrong to "deem and pass" the health care bill

David Harsanyi
March 19, 2010

The Democratic Party believes so deeply in the will of the American people that it may courageously not vote on a bill that it couldn't pass.

It was The Washington Post that recently compressed the absurdities of the Democrats' plan to control your health care into a single amusing headline: "House may try to pass Senate health-care bill without voting on it."

For the typical American, this may sound counterintuitive—or perhaps inconceivable—but as Democrats continue to display a creative knack for legislative swindling, a question has emerged: Are voters, by and large, concerned about the "process," or do they care more about outcomes?

This query becomes more significant as Democrats continue to abandon their defense of "deem and pass"—when the House deems a bill passed without actually voting on it—and make a far more dangerous case.

How we pass legislation doesn't matter, they say, as long as the cause is just. Don't worry; in the end, you'll learn to love it. (Boy, I wonder whether history offers any clues as to where that kind of logic leads.)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said: "We talk a lot about process in this town. ... 'So what?' says the American public. ... 'What did you do for me and my family to make my life more secure and better and greater quality?'"

President Barack Obama believes citizens are indifferent to "procedural" spats. "I don't spend a lot of time worrying about what the procedural rules are in the House or the Senate," Obama explained to Fox News' Bret Baier, asserting that it is frustrating to see the "focus entirely" on process. "It was ugly when Republicans were in charge," he went on to say, "(and) it was ugly when Democrats were in charge."

Actually, in the case of health care legislation, the ugly substance of the legislation creates the ugly process. The two issues are inseparable. The process is corrupted, as the advocates have no other path for passage.

This particular process, cobbled together in an effort to bypass the will of voters and protect cowardly legislators, then becomes vitally important.

No wonder Obama admits, perhaps unwittingly, that he's uneasy about all the focus on what's going on. To deflect attention, he turns to a childish rationalization: Hey, those guys did it, too!

Let's concede that Democrats are correct in calling out duplicitous and hypocritical GOPers. Does dredging up instances of Republican chicanery now validate the use of your own scams to pass "the most important piece of social legislation since the Social Security Act" (the president's own characterization)?

Even on those terms, Democrats have yet to make a solid case. After all, not all legislation is created equal. No Republican "deem-and-pass" case comes remotely close to being used for "the most important bill most of us will ever pass" (per House Speaker Nancy Pelosi).

On Thursday, Democrats voted down a bipartisan attempt to force Congress to take an old-fashioned up-or-down vote on the Senate health care bill, as it would on nearly any other significant piece of legislation.

Perhaps the House still will elect to vote on the Senate bill as is without any gimmicks. If not, the constitutionality of "deem and pass" in this configuration almost certainly will be challenged.

However the challenge pans out, we shouldn't forget that the process matters. Sometimes process is vital in protecting the American people from the abuses of majoritarians and crusading tyrants. Other times, it is used by those very people to circumvent pesky constitutional restrictions.

And in this case, the process is only a reflection of the ugly legislation that makes it possible.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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