Do you remember the "deem and pass" procedure once suggested by House Democrats as a method of winding up work on the health insurance reform act? The one Republicans delighted in insisting was really pronounced "Demon Pass?" The one Crazy Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06) insisted was "treason" and an "impeachable" offense? The one that some nutbar radio guy once called "100 times worse than Watergate"?
Yeah. Well, it's back. And the Republicans are doing it.
Surprise! Ha ha!
What are we talking about? This:
A proposed House rule granting new powers to the GOP chairman of the Budget Committee has sparked outrage from Democrats.
The proposed rule would allow the Budget Committee chairman to set spending ceilings for 2011 without a vote by the full House. By approving the rules package, the House would give authority to the new Budget panel chairman to set budget ceilings at a later time and his decision would not be subject to an up-or-down vote on the floor.
The effect of the change?
Under the rule change, the House Appropriations Committee under Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) would be required to craft 12 appropriations bills for the rest of 2011 or another continuing resolution at the level of spending determined by Ryan. Spending above the ceilings would be subject to a point of order on the House floor.
And how is this change accomplished? Here's the text of the proposed rule:
(1) The chair of the Committee on the Budget (when elected) shall include in the Congressional Record budget aggregates and allocations contemplated by section 301 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 and allocations contemplated by section 302(a) of that Act for each of the fiscal years 2011 through 2015.
(2) The aggregates and allocations specified in subsection (1) shall be considered as contained in a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2011 and the submission thereof into the Congressional Record shall be considered as the completion of congressional action on a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2011.
So what's happening here? Well, the 111th Congress didn't pass a budget for fiscal year 2011, which it normally does by adopting a concurrent resolution. Concurrent resolutions are passed by both houses, but aren't signed by the President. That means they don't have the force of law, but the budget is used to govern the Congressional spending process. The budget essentially hands each of the appropriations subcommittees a cap on their spending, which they can later divvy up among their priorities. The Budget Act, in turn, establishes points of order that Members can bring against bills that exceed those caps and either prevent their passage or consideration, or force changes so that the caps are respected.
That makes the caps pretty important, and setting those caps a pretty powerful thing to be able to do. That's why it normally requires the agreement of the full House and the full Senate to make those caps official.
And that's the part Republicans are going to do away with. The part they're going to "consider" done. To deem done.
Without having any vote at all on the actual numbers the presumptive Budget Committee Chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-01) comes up with, the Republican Rules package to be adopted on Wednesday (probably as H. Res. 5) will by pure magic deem those numbers to actually have the approval not only of the House, but of the Senate as well.
And that's pretty remarkable.
You may recall that when House Democrats first considered "deeming" the Senate health insurance reform bill passed, they were at least declaring that the vote on a self-executing rule would stand-in for a separate action by the House. This Republican "deeming" move says their vote on a self-executing rule will stand in for votes in both the House and the Senate, and will be considered for Budget Act purposes to be a valid budget, even though it was never written, and nobody in either house ever voted (or ever will vote) on any of the numbers.
Can the House really "deem" something passed by the Senate, though?
No, not really. But on the other hand, because a determined House majority can do pretty much whatever that majority says it wants to, if the House Republicans want to pretend they have budget caps, they can just go ahead and do so. And if Republican House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs want to pretend they're binding, they can just go ahead and do so. And if anyone wants to raise a point of order against a bill that violates the imaginary caps, or if anyone wanted to challenge the validity of the imaginary caps, a majority can just tell them they're wrong -- whether it's true or not.
So as far as the House is concerned, it might not make much difference that the new majority wants to pretend the Senate passed their imaginary concurrent resolution. Thing is, the Senate doesn't have to buy it. They know they didn't pass a concurrent resolution, and they won't care that the House is pretending they did.
Or at least, they don't have to. (You sometimes have to hedge on these things. You never know when they're apt to catch "bipartisanship fever.")
And that's the sticky part. A budget isn't really a budget unless the Senate does agree, of course. And an appropriations bill that passes the House by pretending to be in compliance with an imaginary budget resolution isn't legally binding until the Senate passes it, too, and the President signs it. (Or fails to within 10 days, while the Congress is in session.) So how are the Republican House and the Democratic Senate going to agree on appropriations bills when they won't even be able to agree on the same set of facts with respect to what the budget caps are? Republicans in the House will pretend they are what Paul Ryan says they are. But what about the Senate? Neither Democrats nor Republicans there have any particular reason to agree that Paul Ryan should be allowed to speak for them. So what will they do? How will they agree on appropriations bills?
I suppose they just might not, and the government will run all year long on continuing resolutions. Which will of course be totally awesome for those of us who can't get enough of hostage situations. And maybe that's the point, since Republicans will be looking to take as many hostages as many times as possible.
Anyway, just remember: This is 100 times worse than Watergate.