What is 'deem-and-pass'?

A little-known parliamentary rule may be the key to passing health care. But what is it — and why is everyone so fired up about it?

Nancy Pelosi.
(Image credit: Corbis)

As debate over health-care reform draws to a close, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives have indicated they may use a little-known procedural rule called "deem-and-pass" to approve health reform. While proponents maintain that "deem-and-pass" is standard legislative procedure, critics suggest that, by using the rule, Dems are trying to pass health-care reform "without [actually] voting on it." What is "deem-and-pass," and why are Democrats considering using it? Following, a quick guide:

What is "deem-and-pass"?

Anytime the House considers a bill, the entire body votes on a set of debate rules prior to considering the bill itself. Though "deem-and-pass" is just one of many potential rules, it comes with with a special twist: When it's approved, the underlying piece of legislation is automatically passed.

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Why use it for health-care reform?

Democrats in the House are eager to pass health-care reform, but without directly voting "yes" on the version of the bill the Senate passed in December, which many members find objectionable. They would prefer to cast their "yes" vote for a set of changes that would make that Senate bill more to their liking. That's where "deem-and-pass" comes in: If the House approves the use of "deem-and-pass" on ObamaCare, Democrats get to skip approving the Senate bill and can jump immediately to voting on ways to (in their eyes) improve it. If the strategy is successful, those improvements will be present in the version of the bill Obama ultimately signs into law.

Has "deem-and-pass" ever been used before?

Yes. According to the Congressional Research Service, "deem-and-pass" was used "at least six times" — by both parties — between 1989 and 2004. Conservative pundit Norm Ornstein says that the GOP used it "more than 35 times" in 2005–2006.

Sources: TNR, CRS, Wash. Post, The American

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