Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Did the health care bill violate the Constitution?

Where I come from the same bill, in the same form, must be passed by both chambers before it goes to the chief executive for his signature, at which point it becomes law. In my 20 years in my own state legislature, I've never seen anything different. And yet the President is signing today the health care legislation in a form in which it has not been passed by the Senate.

This is quite literally preposterous.

Here is the Constitutional language on the matter:
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
The question is: if one chamber passes a piece of legislation in one form, and it is not approved in the same form by the other chamber, is it the same law? It only seems common sense that it is not, and to pass the law with only one chamber consenting is an abuse of the process. I can't imagine that this would pass a court challenge.


SPWeston said...


The House voted on the Senate bill, completely unmodifiied, and passed it, completely unmodified, and send it to the President, who signed it completely unmodified from the version the Senate voted on.

Yes, the Senate is currently considering some House amendments to the federal budget. Those amendments will only become law with majority votes from both houses.

Do hold on to your courageous objection to "deem and pass" approaches. They've been used before, and they're sure to be tried again.

It's just that this time, that didn't happen happen.

Martin Cothran said...


That would seem to make sense, but what do news reports mean when they talk about a "package of amendments to the health care legislation"?

SPWeston said...

They mean the part about the amendments to the budget bill.

Of course, Kentucky veterans know that the bill called the budget can contain all manner of other stuff besides spending. For example, changing which kinds of parents can be elected to a school council. For example, specifying that when the law says a principal must consult a council, the council gets to define the word consult.

In the bill now being debated by the Senate, I know there are some conventional budget-like things, including stripping out the Cornhusker deal.

There may or may not also be much less-budget-like elements. On the one hand, I wouldn't be shocked to learn that House and Senate Democrats use the budget rules that way. On the other hand, I would be shocked if House and Senate Republicans saw that happening and didn't raise a ruckus--and I haven't heard that ruckus being raised.

In any case, though, the Senate version is law now. It can be changed next week or next year, but it's law tonight.