House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions today may have paved the way for Republicans and Democrats to come up with some kind of health coverage access solution by holding a friendly, down-to-earth meeting on H.R. 1628.
H.R. 1628 is the American Health Care Act bill, a bill that’s supposed to de-fund and change major parts of the Affordable Care Act.
The Rules Committee is a powerful committee that determines the final shape of legislation before it reaches the House floor, and the terms of floor debate.
At press time, the Rules meeting on H.R. 1628 was still under way. Washington publications that follow Congress were full of breathless reports on whether supporters of H.R. 1628 have enough votes to get it through the House and on to the Senate. House leaders have been hoping to win final House approval for the bill Thursday.
The Rules Committee was streaming the video live on the web here (and will post a recording there when the hearing is over).
[Update: The committee ended its hearing on H.R. 1628 about 11 p.m. Wednesday, after voting to approve a rule that lets the committee operate under "martial law" and consider just about any rule proposed by the leadership up until Monday. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., a Democratic member of the panel, interpreted the move as meaning bill supporters "need more time to buy votes" for the bill.]
But Sessions seemed to get both Republicans and Democrats to talk about H.R. 1628 in a calm, detailed way that might help lay the groundwork for further discussions, whether or not that particular bill becomes law.
Here’s a look at three ways House Rules seemed to thaw some of partisan hostility.
Rep. Jim McGovern asked why the House has to vote on H.R. 1628 tomorrow. (Photo: House Rules)
The Democrats who appeared before the committee had many complaints about the process Republicans are using to get H.R. 1628 through the House.
Traditionally, when the House uses “regular order,” it’s supposed to provide time for debate on bills and amendments.
Because congressional Republicans are trying to use a special “budget reconciliation” process to get the ACA change bill through the Senate with just 51 votes, rather than the 60 normally required, House leaders have held that the normal bill consideration rules do not apply.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., complained about the lack of hearings on H.R. 1628, as opposed to bill markups, or revision sessions. “Speaker [Paul] Ryan said there would be regular order,” Pallone said. “There was not regular order.”
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., noted that the sponsors themselves seem harried.
“This was such a good vetting process we have four managers’ amendments on the list, with each one correcting the other ones,” McGovern said.
At another point, McGovern asked why Republican leaders can’t give House members an extra week to read the bill and the proposed amendments.
“What’s the difference between today or next week?” McGovern asked.
But Sessions let Democrats talk, without rushing them, and he started the meeting by noting that Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., was in the hospital with a chest cold. Sessions said he’d talked to her in the hospital.
“She can’t wait to get her hands on me,” Sessions said. “I mean, on the bill.”
During a break, Sessions worked to fuel bipartisanship by distributing extra-large chocolate chip cookies.