Democrats in Congress Aim To Bypass Formal Conference Committee
Congressional Democrats likely will bypass a formal conference committee to combine the House and Senate health reform bills (HR 3962, HR 3590) and instead will hold informal negotiations between chamber leaders in an effort to avoid Republican delaying tactics, the Los Angeles Times reports (Oliphant, Los Angeles Times, 1/5).
On Monday, a senior Senate leadership aide confirmed that the negotiations will take place outside a formal committee.
However, a House leadership aide only said that the idea was under consideration and that members will discuss it throughout the week.
According to CQ Today, part of the reason that the House has refrained from agreeing to an informal negotiating process is that it "could give the chamber less leverage" (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/4).
However, Senate Democratic leaders insist that an informal negotiating process is necessary to circumvent stalling attempts made by Senate Republicans, who have pledged to use procedural roadblocks to obstruct passage of a final bill (Edney, CongressDaily, 1/4).
According to congressional aides, a so-called "ping-pong" process is likely to take place, in which the House would first review and amend the Senate bill before sending it back to the upper chamber, where senators can amend the bill. The process would then be repeated until both chambers are satisfied (Los Angeles Times, 1/5).
Informal Negotiations Begin
Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to start the informal negotiations, which are expected to include other chamber leaders, key committee chairs and White House officials, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 1/4).
According to Politico, the White House is expected to be active in merging the House and Senate reform bills after taking a largely hands-off approach as the two chambers worked on separate versions of reform legislation.
Politico reports that Pelosi is expected to meet at 1 p.m. on Tuesday with the chairs of four House committees that have jurisdiction over the final health bill, in an effort to set parameters for the upcoming informal talks.
Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) are then expected to discuss the negotiations later in the day with President Obama at the White House, with Reid and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) participating via conference call (O'Connor, Politico, 1/4).
House leadership aides said that the chamber's entire Democratic caucus is expected to meet on Thursday -- with many members attending by phone -- to discuss the process and priorities for negotiations (CongressDaily, 1/4).
According to Politico, Pelosi is seeking frequent feedback from members of Congress as the informal process moves forward (Politico, 1/4).
The unofficial timeline for completing and passing a final reform bill is by Obama's State of the Union address, which is expected to take place in early February, according to the AP/Baltimore Sun (AP/Baltimore Sun, 1/5).
On Monday, Michael Steel, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said, "Something as critical as the Democrats' health care bill ... shouldn't be slapped together in a shady backroom deal." Steel added, "Skipping a real, open conference shuts out the American people and breaks one of President Obama's signature campaign promises" (Los Angeles Times, 1/5).Jo Maney, a spokesperson for House Rules Committee ranking member David Dreier (R-Calif.), said, "It's a way around every transparency mechanism in the rules," adding, "If [Democrats] had the votes to do it the right way, they would do it," but "they have to play games, specifically ping-pong" (Pierce/Dennis, Roll Call, 1/4). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.