Cover Story: Health-care sleight of hand?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Carolinians watching Washington, where a complicated piece of legislation is winding its way through Congress.  The public is split on the Health Care Bill.  So are the people who represent us.

The majority party is unleashing an arcane rule to squeeze the bill through the process.  Their minority opponents say the procedure is dishonest.

Either way it could have a major impact on your life.

Some are calling it "treason" others say it's just good politics.

Normally the public really isn't too clued in on how a piece of legislation comes together but this one they seem to be watching closely.

The Senate and House have each passed their own versions of a health care reform bill.

Problem is they're two different bills.

Normally, they would work out their differences in a Conference Committee and then each Chamber would vote on the compromise.  If it passes both Houses - with exact wording - then it would go to the President for his signature and the bill becomes law.

But because Democrats in the House don't like the Senate's bill and Democrats in the Senate don't have enough votes to stop Republican opposition known as "filibuster" the House is considering doing something that dates all the way back to the Great Depression when it was first used.

An arcane parliamentary process to pass legislation by using what's known as the"self-executing rule" also called "deem and pass."

The House would say it's supporting the Senate's Health Care Bill, but not technically vote on it.

As part of the deal-- the House would offer some changes to the Senate's bill that the Senate would then have to agree to.

Said one voter, "I think the American people are pretty fed up with Congress right now. I mean the sausage making process is the sausage making process. We're kinda used to some give and take here. This is ridiculous."

It's a way to give Democrats in the House up for re-election this fall cover by saying they never "technically" voted for health care reform.

"There are a number of Congressmen for one reason or another don't want their names on what the Senate passed. This seems to be a way they can effectively "deem" it passed."

That's professor of Political Science at UNC Charlotte Dr. Bill Brandon.  He specializes in health care politics and policy.

It's a tricky move voting on the $875 billion health care reform package this way that could be risky for the Democrats if the public perceives they're circumventing the system.

On the other hand could pay off dividends if people end up liking health care reform.

Says Brandon, "I think the Democrats are hoping when you actually see what's going to happen with health care if all these measures take place and reform gets through that the American public will be happy and they won't punish the Democrats. We'll see."

They're still counting noses as we speak tonight in the nation's capital.

Though this parliamentary procedure has been done before it's never been accomplished on a bill to this scale.

What are our Congressional delegation members saying?

We e-mailed press offices of the House members who represent our area and only heard back from the Republicans who are opposed to this process.  We didn't hear back from the Democrats.

Rep. Sue Myrick said in a statement, "Passing a bill of this magnitude without voting on it violates everything that we stand for as Americans."

Said Rep. Patrick McHenry in a statement, "Even with parliamentary tricks, the fact remains: this government take-over raises health care costs and is bad for America."

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