Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 4, 2010

PING-PONG PLAY.... The final stage of negotiations over health care reform quietly got underway last week, despite the fact that lawmakers won't return to the Hill for another couple of weeks. One of the first key decisions to be made has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with procedure -- will Democratic leaders skip the formal conference committee?

Jonathan Cohn reported late last night that the leadership seems to have made up its mind, thanks to obstinate signals from Republicans.

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."

Remember, one of the downsides of going through the conference committee is that it would take much longer -- conferees would have to be approved by both chambers, and Republicans intended to use more obstructionist tactics to slow down the process as much as possible. Rather than waste weeks playing pointless games with the GOP, Democratic leaders can, and apparently will, expedite matters and shape the bill on their own. As the Senate staffer told Cohn, "I think the Republicans have made our decision for us."

The GOP will, no doubt, complain bitterly about not having a seat at the table when the final bill is being crafted. But no one can seriously argue with a straight face that Republicans have anything constructive to offer. Why should Dems welcome GOP input on an initiative the minority is still trying to kill?

In terms of how the process would work if policymakers bypass the conference committee, expect the Democratic leadership from both chambers* to sit down with top White House officials to work out the final package. From there, the House would likely approve the bill, before sending it to the Senate ("ping pong"), where it would have to overcome one more GOP filibuster. With 60 votes, the legislation would then go to the White House for a signature, probably before the month's end.

At that point, policymakers could get to work on about a dozen other issues in desperate need of attention -- jobs bill, Wall Street reform, climate change, etc. -- during a difficult election year.

* corrected

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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Will the MSM come to consider this the new 'normal', like filibustering everything is normal, or will they lead the chorus and blast Nancy and Harry for abandoning bipartisanship?

And Jhn McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Beb Nelson will make the rounds on the Sunday talk shows, won't get asked about Republican Obstructionism, and everyone will mourn because Obama abondoned his promise to work with Republicans.


Posted by: bcinaz on January 4, 2010 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

The "How to" book on accommodating an insupportable and a searing , petulant , tooth cracking arrogance , is now being written .

Posted by: FRP on January 4, 2010 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Nobody will ever remember how it's done, only that it's done -- or not done.

Meanwhile, it's beyond me why the Dems don't go full-court in painting the Reps as obstructionist naysayers -- complain about their standing in the way, even as the bulldozer rolls over them.

Rove would do it.

Posted by: bleh on January 4, 2010 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

I am all for bypassing Republican obstructionism, but I also am wary of these negotiations done behind closed doors and a fait accoompli presented to us that contains all of the corporatist crap in the Senate bill. That's what we'll have if Obama and the Senate dems go it alone, since that's how they seem to roll. UGH.

Posted by: msmolly on January 4, 2010 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

I have no doubts that the Dems will also screw this up.

Posted by: par4 on January 4, 2010 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

If the Dems were smart, they would air a commercial around the clock, quoting all the Repubs who said their goal was to kill the bill, stop the bill from being voted on, prevent Democrats from succeeding, etc. A statement from Obama doing the same thing would be even better. "This ping-pong process may not be the norm, but neither is filibustering every bill that goes through the senate. And that is the path Republicans have chosen. They have no interest in contributing to the solution. This is not an accusation, but a statement of mere fact.(insert sound bites of Republicans doing everything they can not to negotiate, lie to the public, etc)" Obama could then ask the Republican "leadership" to answer to all the obvious obstructionism, politicking, and scaremongering they've done. And then ask why Dems should expect any different if they go the normal route.

Of course the Dems won't do that, Republicans will cry bloody murder, and the media will eat it up.

Posted by: John on January 4, 2010 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with John about the need for the Dems to do some serious public relations work emphasizing the fact that Republicans voted en masse against this bill and have publicly stated their wish to obstruct it at every opportunity.

Why pretend that the GOP will act in good faith? Why let them dominate the airwaves with protests of partisanship? Why not tell Broder to STFU since we know what he'll blather about in his next column *chuckle*.

Posted by: Kiweagle on January 4, 2010 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Considering that neither the House nor the Senate Health Care Reform bill got a single Republican vote, it's hard to see what anyone can complain about here. Although I'm sure the usual suspects will do so.

Posted by: MattF on January 4, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

To be fair, I've seen a lot of Dems TRY to talk about Republican obstruction. But it rarely gets past the MSM filters. They are immediately confronted with questions about 'bipartinship' and other silliness and why they 'refuse to work with republicans'. I've rarely seen an interviewer ask a Republican about obstruction tactics only questions about why they don't think Democrats are working with them.

The MSM has totally sold the country in the idea that 60 votes is the norm in the Senate and Democrats are the ones who refuse to get anything done.

Posted by: thorin-1 on January 4, 2010 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

"Remember, one of the downsides of going through the conference committee is that it would take much longer"

But the upside is the vote on a conference committee report is not debatable and therefore not subject to filibuster, thereby only requiring 50 votes.

Posted by: Joe Friday on January 4, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

The GOP is just doing the work of the people, as the clear majority of Americans are against this bill. I would view them as representatives vs. obstructionists.

Posted by: Tim F. on January 6, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK
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