MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
On Capitol Hill, the health care war of words continued to escalate today. And we're learning some new words. Among them, deeming and self-executing rule.
In a few minutes, we'll talk to a former House vote-counter for the Democrats. He'll tell us just what it takes to twist those last few arms. And we'll also talk to a Democrat whose arm got twisted into taking one of those hard votes and lost her seat.
But first, NPR's Julie Rovner reports on the battle over how to bring the health bill to the House for a vote.
JULIE ROVNER: When the House votes on the health bill later this week, it will be in two steps. Step one will be to approve the bill passed by the Senate in December. Step two will be to approve a second bill that will make changes to that Senate bill. Now, House Democrats don't like a lot of things in the Senate bill and most of them don't want to vote for it. So leaders may try to combine the vote on the Senate bill with the procedural vote.
Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): We're going to vote on a bill and on a rule, which will provide for the result that, if a majority are for it, will adopt the Senate bill.
ROVNER: That was House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer talking to reporters this morning. Technically, the procedure he's talking about is called a self-executing rule. If it passes, it will, quote, "deem" the Senate bill passed as well. Republicans are furious about just the thought of it.
Here's Indiana Republican Mike Pence at a tea party rally in front of the Capitol this morning.
Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): The Slaughterhouse rules insults the intelligence of the American people and tramples on the Constitution of the United States of America and it must be rejected.
(Soundbite of cheers)
ROVNER: Republicans are calling it the Slaughterhouse rule after Louise Slaughter, who chairs the House Rules Committee. She's in charge of getting the health overhaul package to the House floor. So far, the bill with the changes to the Senate bill hasn't been unveiled. Pence said this is not the legislative process he learned in school.
Rep. PENCE: For a bill to become a law, it has to pass the House, it has to pass the Senate. If your bill can't pass the House, scrap the bill.
Unidentified Woman: Right.
Rep. PENCE: Start over. And build health care reform in the interest of the American people.
(Soundbite of applause)
ROVNER: But Majority Leader Hoyer says that even if the vote on the Senate bill is a procedural one, the House will still vote on it.
Rep. HOYER: Does anybody in this room doubt that you have to vote on that? We will vote on it in one form or another.
ROVNER: And despite Republican claims that such parliamentary gymnastics are somehow in violation of House rules, or rare, neither is the case, says congressional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.
Mr. THOMAS MANN (Congressional Scholar, Brookings Institution): On the self-executing rule, Republicans and their last Congress that they controlled, the 109th, used it 36 times. The Democrats in the next Congress used it 49 times.
ROVNER: And in many cases, he says, they were on some pretty major bills.
Mr. MANN: The reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, the Deficit Control conference report.
ROVNER: Mann says the use of these sorts of indirect votes have been on the rise with the rise of partisanship in general in the House.
Mr. MANN: Since the minority party, whether Democratic or Republican, believes its job is to defeat the majority and get good votes to use in the upcoming campaign, the majority resorts to tactics that might provide a little indirection, a little insulation from that.
ROVNER: House Majority Leader Hoyer, however, told reporters this morning, he thinks in the end what matters most is what's in the bill, like health insurance for 31 million more people and a start on reining in health care costs.
Rep. HOYER: Process is interesting, particularly to all of us around this room. But in the final analysis, what is interesting to the American public is what this did bill do for them and their families to make their lives more secure.
ROVNER: For House leaders, though, now, it's all about getting their members to vote for the bill.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.