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Democrats hoping to ‘ping-pong’ Republicans right out of final health care reform negotiations

January 4, 2010

Now that the House and Senate have both passed separate health care reform bills, the legislative process shifts to ironing out the differences. This typically involves having a formal conference committee containing members of both the House and the Senate. The goal is to reconcile the two bills, creating a final bill that both chambers will vote on. In a surprise turn, according to Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic, Democrats intend to employ an obscure tactic, informally known as "ping-pong," to shut Republicans out of the final negotiations and speed the bills toward completion. In "ping-pong" the legislation is bounced back and forth between the House and the Senate, controlled by just the Democratic leadership in each chamber and the White House, until a final agreement can be reached.

It's "almost certain," according to a pair of senior congressional staffers Cohn spoke to, that the Democratic leadership will seek to avoid a formal conference committee and its procedural steps. The formal process and additional votes would have offered multiple additional opportunities for the Republicans to slow or obstruct the bill's process, as they did throughout the fall. 

As one might expect, Republicans in Congress are aghast over the move. Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority leader John Boehner, told Yahoo! News that such a tactic would break President Obama's campaign promise of health care debate transparency. He labeled the strategy a "disgrace":

 

Something as critical as the Democrats' health care bill, with its Medicare cuts and tax hikes, shouldn't be slapped together in a shady backroom deal. Skipping a real, open conference shuts out the American people and breaks one of President Obama's signature campaign promises. It would be a disgrace - to the Democratic Leaders if they do it, and to every Democratic Member who lets them.

It also worries some on the left. Liberal blogger Ezra Klein of the Washington Post notes that bypassing the conference committee would limit Republican efforts to stop the bill altogether. He worries that doing so would also "give them fewer opportunities to be heard when voicing legitimate concerns and critiques about the workings of the legislation." Congressman Raul Grijalva, co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told blogger Greg Sargent that he and other progressives are "disappointed" with the apparent choice:

 

I and other progressives saw a conference as a means to improve the bill and have a real debate, and now with this behind-the-scenes approach, we're concerned even more.

But Jonathan Cohn argues to Yahoo! News that "the legislative process works best when members of the minority party are part of the discussion," but with "no members of the minority party acting that way, except for a lone Republican house member, such a negotiation is not possible." Disagreeing mildly with concerns from the left that skipping a conference committee would hamper the quality of the legislation, he added: "Trying for a formal conference would not lead to a better bill. It'd just lead to a bill that took more time to pass."

Source: YNews

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