Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | March 14, 2010

Pelosischlacht: Left Comes Out Swinging for the Slaughter Rule

Predictably, commentators of the left have pounced, with a “tu quoque” argument, on conservative criticism of the “Slaughter Rule,” by which the House would adopt the language of the Senate health care reform bill without an actual vote.  (See Directorblue’s excellent summary of the issue here, complete with commentary from Mark Levin.)

The tu quoque argument – “Republicans do this too!” – is backed up by a case that the maneuver is too constitutional, and in fact has been used simply, like, all the time, ever since it was proposed by Dick Gephardt (former D-MO) in 1979.

But some conscientious commentators have done too much homework, or at least presented too much evidence on this matter.  If they left it at “You do it too, Pubbies!” their argument might take off as a mantra.  Republicans have, in fact, used similar “self-executing” rules to amend legislation without a vote (see link next paragraph).

The mantra is likely to perish aborning, however – except, perhaps, among the mainstream media – because the use of this particular non-voting legislation-adoption rule has been to raise the national debt ceiling.  That’s why Gephardt proposed it in the first place:  so the House could raise the debt ceiling without having to put the question to an actual full-House vote.  The maneuver was promptly dubbed the “Gephardt rule” and was used vigorously thereafter.  The Republican-controlled Congress of 2001 revoked the rule, but brought it back in 2003.

People of small-r republican bent will certainly find all such legislative maneuvers improper, and wouldn’t, in good conscience, let Republicans off the hook for keeping the Gephardt rule in their toolbox between 1995 and 2001, and between 2003 and 2007.  Let’s get rid of the practice entirely.  I’ve never been “for” it, any more than I’ve been “for” a lot of other things I had no power to prevent.

But people with a capacity for logic and sensible distinctions will also see the clear difference between raising the debt ceiling – or executing other fiscal maneuvers – without a vote; and changing the law of the land in an unprecedented way to tax, levy mandates on, and constrain the options of America’s 300-million-plus people, without a vote.

However bad an idea it is, raising the national debt ceiling is a measure to keep the path we’re currently on viable, at least for the short term.  It’s a means of not having to undertake sweeping changes in how the government is operating, and what the people expect of it.

The health care reform bills in Congress are the exact opposite of that.  They represent, above all else, sweeping changes:  an individual mandate to purchase non-liability insurance – something there is no precedent for and no analogy to at the federal level; business- and job-killing changes to employer mandates; a whole new set of embedded taxes; an enormous pile of unfunded mandates for the states; the infamous “effectiveness research institutes,” which would evaluate medical practices on a cost-benefit basis; and, of course, drastic cuts to Medicare, cuts that would unquestionably change the program’s very nature.  Not to mention the open door in the Senate bill to government funding of abortions.

The argument is likely to be made that each house of Congress has already had a Yea-Nay vote on these features of the bills, and reconciliation between the houses is now mere housekeeping.  This, of course, is the narrowly procedural view of the matter that serves the left’s perspective.

Aside from the abortion-funding question, on which the houses clearly don’t agree, the difficulty for this legislation all along has been that it is wildly unpopular with the people.  They are galvanized and vocal on this topic, in a manner clearly distinct from their long apathy on the methods used to facilitate expansion of the federal debt ceiling.  The people have every bit as much right to “legislative tactics” as Louise Slaughter and Nancy Pelosi do.  There is nothing the slightest bit inconsistent in the people demanding their crack at turning votes in the House, on game-changing legislation like this.

The people know that without reconciliation between the houses, no version of the bill can become law.  Failure to reconcile the different chambers’ bills has stopped legislation in its tracks on a number of occasions throughout the life of our republic, because that’s how the process is supposed to work.  We have a bicameral legislature precisely because the Framers wanted the two houses to be a check on each other, and the requirement for majorities in both houses to be a check on new legislation of exactly the kind represented by the current health care bills.  What the House would be doing by “adopting” the Senate language without a vote is making an end-run around that principle.

The indignation at potential use of the Slaughter rule to “adopt” the Senate language in the House, without a vote, is fully warranted.  Moreover, it’s quaint and out of date now for some to argue that the purpose of using it would be the same as the purpose of using the Gephardt rule:  to shield representatives from retribution by keeping embarrassing votes off their records.  Obama, Reid, and Pelosi have all made it clear they don’t really care about their members and their fate in November.

No, the purpose of using the Slaughter rule here would be to override the basic and pervasive political objections that make it unlikely Pelosi can win a Yea-Nay vote on the floor.  The Gephardt rule was used to kick the can down the road.  The Slaughter rule would be used to pick the can up, hack it into a sharp-edged tool, and heave it at the millions of Americans who don’t want the “reform” bills before Congress – as well as at the economy those Americans are trying, with increasing unease and even desperation, to keep afloat.

So, what does that title mean?  Germans have been some of the world’s foremost practitioners, chroniclers, and analysts of military strategy and tactics.  A number of terms used in the discipline come from German compound words, and one of them is kesselschlacht:  usually translated “cauldron battle,” and referring to a tactic of surrounding and annihilating an enemy.  But “schlacht” translates as “slaughter” too.  Apparently, Pelosischlacht has a chance to become the next neologism in the lexicon of political warfare.

Cross-posted at Hot Air’s Greenroom.


  1. “changing the law of the land in an unprecedented way to tax, levy mandates on, and constrain the options of America’s 300-million-plus people, without a vote…

    raising the national debt ceiling …

    sweeping changes:

    an individual mandate to purchase non-liability insurance – something there is no precedent for and no analogy to at the federal level;

    business- and job-killing changes to employer mandates;

    a whole new set of embedded taxes;

    an enormous pile of unfunded mandates for the states;

    the infamous “effectiveness research institutes,” which would evaluate medical practices on a cost-benefit basis;…

    drastic cuts to Medicare, cuts that would unquestionably change the program’s very nature.

    government funding of abortions.”

    When one looks at the litany of changes this Bill will bring, changes that the public is bound to perceive negatively…can any fair-minded observer fail to reach the conclusion, that all of the Democrats ‘spin’, even with the MSM’s assistance, in attempting to portray the Slaughter ‘solution’ as acceptable…will successfully resonate with an increasingly angry and disenfranchised public?

    On FOX Sunday Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) indicated that if Pelosi fails to secure the votes needed in the House for passage of the bill, the Democrats are prepared to invoke the “Slaughter Rule”.

    Whether voted upon or not, the Democrats are going to get slaughtered come November, it is just a matter of how badly.

    If they invoke the ‘Slaughter Rule’ it will create a level of animosity never before seen and will lead to greatly increased alienation. Once the other guy starts fighting dirty, the Marquis of Queensbury rulebook goes out the window.

    Though it be currently low on the ‘radar’ forcing people to pay for abortions, for what many see as murder is going to create an impossible to extinguish, political firestorm of protest that will exceed the Vietnam war protests.

    Obama and the Democrats are truly playing with fire and their ideology simply won’t allow them to see the danger ahead. If they force this upon us and then double down of cap and trade, etc. rebellion is what they are instigating and civil war is what they shall have.

    • I’m with you Geoff ! The only good news in all that is happening is since I’m probably pretty close to being politically an anarchist, if I had Soros’ billions, I couldn’t have come up with a better scenario to get people to question our current form of government. Looks like tyranny to me. Years ago I read a book called Anatomy of a Revolution. The thesis of the book was that by the time the “revolution” occurs in a society, the emotional, cultural break with the status quo had already occurred because whatever had been the legal government had long since ceased to be seen by the average citizen as providing the government the average person wanted to live under.

  2. GB, Orcas — it does seem that Obama and his “team,” in the executive and in Congress, is determined to go ahead regardless of the impact from raising the ire of the people.

    I don’t know that it’s ideology that blinds them. There’s a very good argument that at least some of them are deliberately trying to get things roiled up, in Alinsky-ite fashion. That is, they WANT government and the “civil contract” to break down so that they can rush in and apply forcible “remedies.”

    Where I think their blindness lies is in how they see this prospect. It seems like they see all 300-some Americans as being basically like welfare mothers and unemployed juvies in Chicago. It’s like they think average Americans are held in check or propped up, in every aspect of life, by government policies and programs.

    I think they don’t actually realize that the people are orderly, trustworthy, and honest because WE are that way, without being coerced into it by government. We aren’t a mob of welfare dependents, and we aren’t even the Germans of the 1930s, looking to government to make our streets safe from radical hoodlums. The reason radical hoodlumism doesn’t get started here, as it did in so much of Europe in the last century, is that American citizens themselves aren’t hoodlums, and we deal with hoodlums quite summarily.

    In much of America, it’s still the case that if hoodlums tried to riot through a middle-class neighborhood, the residents would simply load their rifles and pistols and go stand, quietly but suggestively, on their front porches — and the local police, sheriffs, and courts would back them up.

    What I don’t think Obama and his crowd understand is what it means to millions of Americans that we are law-abiding homeowners and responsible citizens and taxpayers. I think they literally don’t understand the meaning of that: they don’t understand that we won’t start something we don’t intend to finish, and that the end-state we desire excludes THEIR vision absolutely.

    They don’t have any idea what it’s like to BE the average American. That’s at the heart of the weakness in their understanding.

  3. Geoffrey, Orcas. J.E., I’ll add my voice to this chorus. Even though I’ve followed politics ever since I was a teenager, I was never really politically active. The first time I actually got active was just a couple of months ago when I was imploring everyone to vote for Scott Brown (I’m a Boston resident). I attended a couple of Tea Party rallies as well – also something new for me.

    Now, if the Dems ram through this health sham bill, I’m going nuclear I think. I’m so opposed to this bill that if anything bad happens to any legislator who votes for it, I won’t be upset about it in the least. I’ll go to rallies to protest the bill, I’ll put forth time and money to help repeal it. I might even throw a drink in John Kerry’s face if I happen to see him in one of the Nantucket restaurants/bars (I’d likely have to be pretty “saturated” to pull that one off!).

    I say all this to give some weight to your “revolution” comment Geoffrey. When someone like me, who has always been placid by nature, is ready to put on the face paint and get into the mix, you know something is brewing.

  4. I do want to comment on an attitude that I think is a misinterpretation of Christian sentiment. There is compassion for the vulnerable and then there is a realistic assessment of another sort of human. In the Biblical Book of Hosea, the authors make a great deal over the names that the prophet Hosea gives to his three children: “in a little while”, “no pity”, and “not my people”. I think these Jewish sages were saying that there can be leadership so corrupt that there is no ethical justification for the leaderships actions. How people respond to unethical leadership is a perennial human question, and the reaction to unethical leadership has historically been seen as most serious, but just behavior toward all is the guideline, not unwarranted compassion.

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