The Speaker's Lobby: I Want a Pony
By: Chad Pergram, FOX News
01 November 2009
I always thought I made out pretty well on Christmas morning. Over the years I scored box seats to Reds-Dodgers games when they were the hottest ticket in town, a motorized yard cart with the "Batman" insignia painted on the front (hence making it the "Batmobile"), Matchbox cars, a Tyco train set and various other diversions.
But somehow, Kris Kringle never quite brought me everything I wanted.
How could he possibly have forgotten? I told him right there as I sat on his lap at the mall. I even watched his elves take copious notes of my requests.
Years later, I've finally figured out what I needed as a seven-year-old to make my Christmas morning complete.
I needed a "manager's amendment."
In Congress, the manager's amendment is a final package of alterations made to a bill, right before it hits the House floor. It's a series of tweaks and additions, designed to prep the bill for debate. The manager's amendment usually fixes problem areas. But it's also crafted in such a way to court the support of lawmakers who are skeptical about the legislation. This is called the Goldilocks Effect. Making sure the bill isn't too hot or too cold. But just right.
You see, if I had a manager's amendment on Christmas morning, I could have gone back to the Jolly Old Elf and demanded there be certain "fixes." Specific additions and subtractions to my holiday order. Otherwise, I was going to be one rambunctious first-grader for the rest of the year. I mean, how can you expect someone to behave in Mrs. Hollack's class if you aren't rewarded for your efforts?
So, as the House of Representatives glides toward a possible vote on a massive health care reform package later this week, key lawmakers and aides are operating on a manager's amendment that they hope secures the votes of lawmakers who are grumbling about the legislation.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said there are "some who aren't very comfortable with some portions of the bill and others who are very comfortable."
And the leader told me to expect the manager's amendment on the health care reform bill to be ready "Monday or Tuesday." Hoyer also noted he couldn't "predict exactly what we'll see in it." But once the manager's amendment is set, the clock starts running.
"I would expect for the earliest votes to be no earlier than Thursday. Seventy-two hours after the manager's amendment is put online," Hoyer indicated during a colloquy with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) late last week.
House Democrats released the 1,990-page health care reform bill Thursday. And immediately drew fire from the GOP.
"There's only one purpose for a thousand page bill," said. Rep. GT Thompson (R-PA) last Wednesday. "And that's to hide stuff."
So Republicans grew increasingly concerned about the contents of the manager's amendment the pending health care bill.
"To try to figure out what they take out...what they put in...it becomes a puzzle of such complexity that nobody will know what's going on," said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO). "Which may be exactly what the majority wants to have happen."
Republicans and even some Democrats are wary of manager's amendments. Particularly after what happened in June on the 1,200-page climate bill, designed to curb greenhouse gasses. The measure was already 1,200 pages in length. But Democrats engineered a 309-page manager's amendment that they released in the middle of the night before the vote. The House later approved the climate-energy bill in a squeaker, 219-212.
So Democrats are drilling down on a manager's amendment for the health care reform bill. A senior House Democratic leadership aide says there won't be many major changes to the legislation in this manager's amendment. But like children on Christmas morning who didn't find everything they wanted under the tree, liberal and conservative Democrats are pelting Congressional leaders with their appeals.
For instance, Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and six other lawmakers wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) begging her to waive federal law in order to protect an option for states to pick up the tab for people's health insurance coverage.
"We urge you to include it in the Manager's Amendment," the lawmakers told Pelosi in their missive.
A senior Democratic source also signals that there could be a provision in the manager's amendment to satisfy lawmakers concerned about the health care bill using federal dollars to pay for abortions.
Meantime, members of the fiscally-conscious "Blue Dog" coalition fretted about the legislation's price tag and whether it could drive up the deficit. They wrote to the Congressional Budget Office seeking more clarity about the potential the bill has to bust the budget. Meantime, members who represent the three most-liberal groups in the House Democratic Caucus huddled at the White House Thursday night to make a last-ditch pitch for the bill to contain a so-called "public option" in the bill. The "public option" is where the government offers insurance to someone.
In a statement after the meeting, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) proclaimed that "there is still work to do." Lee added she would "work with my colleagues to ensure that the final package has the strongest public option."
So here is the House Democratic leadership on Christmas morning. It's toiled for months, carefully crafting a health care reform bill, wrapping it in a package with a pretty red bow and placing it under the Christmas tree. It's weighed the concerns of those on the left and the right in the caucus, and tried to forge a plan that satisfies all.
And like petulant children, some House Democrats have run downstairs just before dawn, torn open the package and screeched in collective dismay: "I want a pony!"
Pelosi tries to assuage them.
"We don't have the money, dear," Pelosi says.
"I want a pony!" they scream, stamping their feet.
"But where would we put it?" asks Pelosi.
"I don't care!"
"We don't have the votes."
"I-WANT-A-PONY!" they bawl, teetering on the verge of a meltdown.
As they wipe away the tears, all good parents know this is where misdirection comes in.
"Would you like some ice cream?"
In other words, "Here. Blow your nose. Let's try to fix this as best we can. And get you a big bowl of a Manager's Amendment!"
I'll take two scoops. Doused in chocolate syrup. With sprinkles.
And a cherry on top.
- Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He's earned an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.
- The Speaker's Lobby refers to a long, ornate hallway that runs behind the House chamber. It's where lawmakers, aides and journalists often confer during votes.