Lacking the votes to pass an unpopular $1 trillion health care bill, House Democrats were defending a plan to draw support for the measure by allowing their caucus to approve the bill without actually voting for it.
"This procedure is perfectly appropriate," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said following a meeting with fellow Democrats on health care.
Despite a growing chorus of complaints and legal questions, Democrats refused to rule out a tactic in which they would approve a smaller bill that makes corrections to the major health care legislation. Passage of the smaller bill would then "deem" the original health care bill passed without ever holding an up-or-down vote. The move would allow skittish Democrats to avoid going on record in favor of the original health care bill, which was authored by the Senate and includes many provisions they don't like such as special deals carved out for certain states and a tax on expensive insurance policies.
"Other than the people in this room, do you think any American is going to make a distinction?" House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., asked reporters at his weekly news conference when they questioned him about the political risks of using the procedure.
Reporters peppered Democrats with questions about the matter all day Wednesday. Democrats accused the GOP of trying to distract people from the substance of health care reform with parliamentary details that the public does not care about.
"Here we are discussing this because they are trying to change the conversation," Van Hollen told a crowd of reporters.
But Republicans aren't the only ones questioning the tactic.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., told The Examiner he believed such a move could violate the Constitution's requirement for a vote on every bill.
"I don't like it," Lieberman said. "I just think something this big ought to be done with a vote." Lieberman said such a move could draw a public backlash.
Republicans have been eagerly working to stoke public anger about the issue as well as the contents of the bill, which would create an insurance mandate, expand Medicaid and increase taxes.
"The majority plans to force this toxic Senate bill through the House under some controversial trick," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
House Republicans this week plan to offer a resolution that would require a roll call vote on the Senate health care bill.
"By supporting this resolution, Democrats can demonstrate that they will not try to hide from their constituents," Boehner said.
Democrats have a bigger problem than Boehner's resolution. While they are hoping to hold a vote on the bill as early as this weekend, they have not been able to round up the 216 votes they need from House Democrats in order to pass it.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has begun to bear down on a large group of her rank and file that is leaning against the measure.
Appearing at a health care news conference Tuesday, Pelosi delivered a warning to wavering Democrats: "Now it's time to say whose side you're on."