Article I, Section 7 clearly states that bills cannot be presented to the president for signature unless they have been approved by both houses of Congress in the same form. If the House approves the Senate bill in the same legislation by which it approves changes to the Senate bill, it will fail that requirement.The actual constitutional text is: "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."
No one doubts that the House can consolidate two bills in a single measure; the question is whether, having done so, it may then hive the resulting bill into two parts, treating one part as an enrolled bill ready for presidential signature and the other part as a House bill ready for senatorial consideration. That seems inconsistent with the principle that the president may sign only bills in the exact form that they have passed both houses. A combination of two bills is not in "the same form" as either bill separately.McConnell is fending off the argument that the House, under Article I, §5 ("Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings"), has the authority to bundle 2 bills together and vote on them at the same time. He also must contend with the argument — which has some case law in support — that the House makes the final call on the meaning of the Constitution in this area.
Read lawprof Jack Balkin's response to McConnell:
As I understand the rule in question, it does not actually "consolidate two bills into a single measure." Rather, it says that once the House votes on the reconciliation measure, it also votes on the Senate Bill....
McConnell's objection is formalist: He concedes that the House could have separate votes on both bills, and send one to the President and the other to the Senate. His sole objection is that the House leadership has decided to vote on them together using a single procedural rule.
But if he wants to make that kind of formalist argument, the House has an equally formalist rejoinder: The use of this particular procedural rule does not consolidate the two measures into a single measure. It just consolidates a vote on the two measures. In fact, the language of the rule actually preserves their separate character; it refers to the language of the reconciliation measure and the Senate bill separately.
What the leaders of the House would say is that McConnell has made a basic mistake: He has confused a bill with an internal rule for voting on a bill....
... The Constitution leaves to Congress to decide how to authenticate bills, and the Court won't second-guess the evidence....What I've observed is that the Supreme Court employs formalistic-sounding arguments as a convention of opinion-writing when it is confronting Congress over matters like this and finding something unconstitutional. But, I think, a judicial intuition that something is amiss precedes the opinion-writing, and that intuition has to do with much more than a parsing of the text. As Balkin shows, you can go either way with the text if you want. The deeper question is whether the procedure deprives us — the people — of a structural safeguard that would protect us from the abuse of power. Is this something that matters, something we should care about, something that operates to preserve the accountability of our representatives? And the answer to that question must be disaggregated from the question whether we like the substance of the bill/bills. If you go with Balkin because you want the health care reform, or with McConnell because you don't, then you are not talking about the Constitution.
McConnell's main aim is to create doubt about the "deem and pass" and thereby affect the vote in the House. He ends his op-ed:
Will wavering House members want to use this procedure when there is a nontrivial probability that the courts will render their political sacrifice wasted effort? To hazard that risk, the House leadership must have a powerful motive to avoid a straightforward vote.Whether you want to think about the Constitution or not, you may ask: If this reform really is desirable, why are they doing it in such a bizarre way? The constitutional questions add heft to that question. If McConnell's interpretation is good, the procedure is all the more bizarre, and the doubts that arise are aggravated. If Balkin's right, then everything's fine, calm down, let it go. They are talking about law, but they are talking to Congress, trying to affect the vote. Predictions about what courts will and will not do play into the present debate.
What seems most important to me, both politically and in answering the constitutional question (if it, ultimately, becomes necessary), is whether the members of the House of Representatives understand and make it absolutely transparent that what they are doing is voting on 2 bills and that the Senate bill, if approved, will go independently and directly to the President for signature, and that, upon the President's signature, that bill will become law on its own, without any regard to whether that other bill ever makes it through the Senate and into law later on.
If the members of the House of Representatives are going to deny that they voted for the Senate bill that became law (on its own) or if they will say that they were somehow caught unaware or betrayed by the Senate or tricked, then I think the rule is unconstitutional. But if they cannot use the rule that way — as political cover — why use it at all?