Q: When is a Bill Signed by the President Not a Law?
marty.lederman at comcast.net
Fri Feb 10 08:29:37 PST 2006
A. When it has not been passed by both the House and the Senate. U.S. Const.
Art. I, sec. 7, cl. 2.
Civics 101 lesson:
On Wednesday, the President signed S. 1932, the Deficit Reduction Act of
2005. It is, by all accounts, an extremely significant piece of legislation,
which sharply divided the legislature. The bill passed the Senate back in
December only on the tie-breaking vote of the Vice President. It then went
to the House, which purported to agree to the Senate amendment by a vote of
216 to 214 on Febriary 1st. In other words, it doesn't get much closer than
But there's a catch -- namely, that the House apparently did not vote for
the bill that had passed the Senate.
Section 5101(b)(1)(B) of the bill would limit Medicare payment for oxygen
equipment to a period of 36 months, after which the supplier of the
equipment must transfer title to the recipient. This had been a
controversial provision. Under pre-existing law, Medicare paid for oxygen
supply, tanks and maintenance for as long as an eligible patient uses them;
and the average usage period is 30 months. The House-Senate Conference had
capped payments at 18 months, which caused Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio,
"normally an immovable budget hawk," to threaten to derail the entire $40
billion deficit-cutting bill. Hence, the 36-month solution in the Senate
For (almost) all other "durable medical equipment," however (e.g.,
wheelchairs), section 5101(a)(1) of the Senate bill capped payment at 13
Here's the rub: When the bill was prepared for consideration by the House,
the "36 months" language for oxygen tanks in section 5101(b) was included,
but that same language was also inserted into section 5101(a), so that the
House bill provides for reimbursement for other durable medical equipment
for the same 36 months as is available for oxygen tanks. (This blurb in
yesterday's Washington Post tells the story, but mistakenly refers to the
discrepancy as appearing in the oxygen-tank provision, rather than in the
The Post story reports that "when the mistake was discovered, a . . . clerk
scribbled out '36 months' and wrote in '13 months.'" And, apparenty, the
enrolled version that was transmitted to the President tracks the Senate
But the House never passed the Senate version.
Article I provides that, in order to become a law, a "Bill . . . shall have
passed the House of Representatives and the Senate." (For those of you
needing a refresher course, listen here.) Has S.1932, which the President
signed on Wednesday, passed the House of Representatives?
If not, what comes of it?
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