EXCLUSIVE: Dems 'Almost Certain' to Bypass Conference

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THE TREATMENT JANUARY 3, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Dems 'Almost Certain' to Bypass Conference

Now that both the House and Senate have passed health care reform bills, all Democrats have to do is work out a compromise between the two versions. And it appears they’re not about to let the Republicans gum up the works again.

According to a pair of senior Capitol Hill staffers, one from each chamber, House and Senate Democrats are “almost certain” to negotiate informally rather than convene a formal conference committee. Doing so would allow Democrats to avoid a series of procedural steps--not least among them, a series of special motions in the Senate, each requiring a vote with full debate--that Republicans could use to stall deliberations, just as they did in November and December.

“There will almost certainly be full negotiations but no formal conference,” the House staffer says. “There are too many procedural hurdles to go the formal conference route in the Senate.”

One reason Democrats expect Republicans to keep trying procedural delays is that the Republicans have signaled their intent to do so. On Christmas Eve, when the Senate passed its bill, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell memorably vowed in a floor speech that “This fight isn't over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law."

“I think the Republicans have made our decision for us," the Senate staffer says. "It’s time for a little ping-pong.”

“Ping pong” is a reference to one way the House and Senate could proceed. With ping-ponging, the chambers send legislation back and forth to one another until they finally have an agreed-upon version of the bill. But even ping-ponging can take different forms and some people use the term generically to refer to any informal negotiations.

Whatever form the final discussions take place, a decision to bypass conference would undoubtedly expedite the debate, clearing the way for final passage (if not signing) by the end of January. And, as long as both chambers still get their say, that's a good thing.

Yes, Republicans are sure to complain that they're being excluded from deliberations. But given their repeated efforts to block not just reform but even mere votes on reform, it's not clear why Democrats are obligated to include them in discussions anymore.

Follow Jonathan Cohn on Twitter: @jcohntnr

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posted in: the treatment, health care, christmas eve, mitch mcconnell, senate

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