Rules Committee meeting reflects partisanship of health-care debate

Gautham Nagesh Contributor
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The House Rules Committee on Wednesday turned a single vote on a procedural issue — with some bearing on Obama’s health-care bill — into a partisan back-and-forth regarding the placement of cameras in the hearing room.

The committee voting on party lines approved a motion to suspend the rules until Sunday to allow House members to consider a number of pieces of legislation, including the health-care bill currently being debated. But committee members spent most of the hour-long hearing debating the merits of the bill and which party was more transparent when it held power.

Committee chairwoman Louise Slaughter dismissed criticism from Republican Mike Pence of Indiana that using the self-executing rule, dubbed the “Slaughter solution” to pass health care would be unconstitutional. Slaughter claimed the procedure has been in use since 1933 and told The Daily Caller that Republican Dennis Hastert used it “a ton” during his tenure as speaker.

Other Republicans on the committee took issue with the bill itself. Republican Virginia Foxx of North Carolina asked Slaughter how she could ask House members to support the Senate bill after she herself deemed it a failure last fall and told the upper chamber to go back to the drawing board.

“It’s interesting to me that we’re using all these sleight-of-hand tricks for something you [Slaughter] suggested is a terrible bill,” Foxx said, adding that by voting for the Senate bill House Democrats were really supporting drug manufacturers. “Even Sen. [Dick] Durbin has said this bill is not going to bring down the cost of health insurance.”

Democrat James McGovern of Massachusetts fought back, arguing the process matters far less than the final result.

“What is at stake here is whose side you’re on. The side of the American people or the side of big insurance companies that don’t want any kind of reform,” McGovern said.

“To suggest that opponents of this health-care bill are against expanding coverage is outrageous,” said ranking member David Dreier of California, before listing a number of measures Republicans favor to increased coverage and decrease cost such as health-care savings accounts. “If we were to drive down the cost through competition it would increase coverage.”

Dreier spent the first portion of the meeting voicing his concerns about the Rules Committee’s meeting room in the Capitol, which he said is too small to accommodate increased public interest in the process being used to pass health-care reform. Dreier noted that the Rules Committee is one of only three that doesn’t televise its hearings; neither the House Ethics Committee nor the House Intelligence provide television access, but both have clear reasons for meeting behind closed doors.

He pointed out where Capitol staff members have installed plates and outlets to allow for the cameras to be set up. He said prior to the changes C-SPAN employees were forced to crouch in the supply closets to cover committee hearings.

Congressman Alcee Hastings took issue with both Dreier’s criticisms, noting that all committee business is transcribed and available as part of the congressional record. He also suggested that Dreier was trying to deflect attention from the substance of the bill.

“I’m convinced after working with my good friend for a number of years that he and I can talk the horns off a billy goat,” Hastings said.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado asked to have the record reflect that the only TV cameraman left immediately following Dreier’s remarks, prompting Dreier to furiously deny that he had arranged for the press coverage. Perlmutter withdrew his comment in response.