The Spectacle Blog

TNR: Dems to Skip Conference to Merge Health Care Bills

By on 1.4.10 | 8:43AM

Jonathan Cohn reports that Democrats are "almost certain" to skip a formal conference committee to merge the House and Senate health care bills and informally negotiate which each other, a strategy that would expedite final passage.

Cohn favors the strategy of shutting off the ability of Republicans to delay health care legislation further:

“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.

While this may very well be the current line of thinking among Democrats, I'm not convinced this is how things will play out. It's important to keep in mind that it won't just be Republicans who are clamoring for conference committee, but a lot of liberals, too. Many on the left begrudgingly expressed support for passing the Senate bill in the hopes that they could make one last stand during conference talks, and I think Democrats may have to give them that oppourtunity, if nothing else but for show.

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