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GOP says Democrats' plan on health bill abuses rules

WASHINGTON — It is a brazen abuse of Congress' rules. Or a legitimate tactic used many times by both parties.

Republicans and Democrats have sharply divergent views about the method being contemplated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a final vote on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

The GOP says Democrats are flagrantly ignoring the will of the American people by trying to pass the legislation to reshape the U.S. health care system without a direct House vote on the bill approved by the Senate in December.

Democrats responded Tuesday that the moves they are contemplating have been used by both parties numerous times to pass legislation such as huge increases in the government's ability to borrow money.

The attacks by GOP leaders underscore an offensive by Republicans hoping to either derail Obama's top legislative priority by scaring off wavering Democratic lawmakers, or to bank arguments they can use against Democrats in this fall's congressional campaigns.

Top House Democrats are hunting votes so the chamber can finally send Obama the 10-year, nearly $1 trillion health care bill the Senate approved on Christmas Eve. Democrats also want to send him a smaller, second bill changing the overhaul legislation, such as easing a new tax on high-priced health insurance policies and killing extra Medicaid payments to Nebraska that have become a symbol of backroom dealmaking.

House Democrats worry that a direct vote on the broad Senate bill would prove unpopular among voters. To ease the political pain, House leaders are considering a process in which the same House vote approving the rules for debating the smaller fix-it bill would automatically send the huge Senate-approved measure to Obama.

Pelosi, D-Calif., seemed to give Republicans an easy target when she said Monday that she liked the idea ‘‘because people don't have to vote on the Senate bill.''

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Democratic effort to avoid a direct House vote on the health overhaul bill was ‘‘the ultimate in Washington power grabs, a legislative ploy that lets Democrats defy the will of the American people.''