TNR: No conference committee for ObamaCare

posted at 12:15 pm on January 4, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Democrats have decided against using a conference committee to pursue a compromise on ObamaCare that can pass both the House and the Senate, The New Republic reported yesterday and The Corner confirmed today.  Instead, they have decided to play ping-pong in an attempt to pass one version that can go to Barack Obama’s desk:

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.”

The idea is to bypass the public hearings that a conference committee could generate, as well as to exclude Republicans from representation at the talks.  While the latter is completely predictable — after all, only a couple of Republicans were ever consulted on ObamaCare, and only to get past a filibuster vote — the former violates pledges made by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama during the last two elections.  They explicitly demanded an end to backroom deals made in secret; Obama himself pledged to have all of the negotiations on health-care reform televised on C-SPAN.

Given the bill’s increasing unpopularity, it doesn’t surprise that Democrats want to hide themselves while trying to get it out of Congress.  However, that kind of approach will not build support for ObamaCare.  It will undermine whatever support it has left except as a purely partisan exercise — which explains why its support among likely voters closely mirrors the percentage of Democrats among that sample.

While ping-pong eliminates some procedural hurdles in the Senate, such as conferee selection, it won’t avoid the debate processes, including another cloture vote to get the bill on the floor and to get it to a final vote.  As Kathryn Jean Lopez notes at The Corner, that means the final version has to look almost identical to what the Senate passed before Christmas:

As back-up, the Hill source adds a note about the Nelson-sellout insurance policy: “And with all the grief Nelson’s had in his state and elsewhere, the bill will have to stay close enough to what he voted for or he’ll have an excuse to bolt.”

Nelson may be looking for an excuse to rescue himself and block the bill anyway.  We’ll see what ping-pong does, but it’s more likely that the House will accept the Senate bill as is than avoiding cloture on a compromise would be.  But clearly the Democrats are worried about at least one cloture vote, or Nelson would be irrelevant.

Update: Melissa Clouthier and Philip Klein have more thoughts.


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I didn’t read the case, so I’ll assume you’ve provided all relevant facts in good faith.

But you missed the point:

The Alaska law was un-Constitutional only because it did not meet the “strict standard of the Privileges and Immunities Clause” in the way it was implemented, not because Alaska passed the law. Secondly, the case you cited is a State law, not a federal law.

BobMbx on January 4, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Nutshell: The US Constitution applies to federal laws. This clause prevents (albeit hard to prove nowadays) the federal government from creating a benefit for one state that is not available to another. It prevents favoritism and Yikes! Vote buying.

State income taxes are just that…state taxes. The Fed gvt has no say in state taxes.

BobMbx on January 4, 2010 at 2:44 PM

–Bob, I thought you had said that the privileges and immunities clause only applied to federal laws, not state laws. See above.

Jimbo3 on January 4, 2010 at 3:24 PM

The debate on the privileges and immunities clause is all very interesting, but the question at hand is whether it allows the feds to favor Nebraska over other states. Can it be used as a basis for declaring this “reform” legislation unconstitutional?

MassVictim on January 4, 2010 at 3:41 PM

The debate on the privileges and immunities clause is all very interesting, but the question at hand is whether it allows the feds to favor Nebraska over other states. Can it be used as a basis for declaring this “reform” legislation unconstitutional?

MassVictim on January 4, 2010 at 3:41 PM

I don’t think so. It looks like the clauses, as interpreted, prevent one state from discriminating against the citizens of another state with respect to fundamental rights. That probably wouldn’t cover what Nelson negotiated.

Jimbo3 on January 4, 2010 at 4:03 PM

I’m surprised the democrats don’t just hash it out among themselves, introduce the result as H.R. 7532 (or whatever they are up to now) and vote on that.

agmartin on January 4, 2010 at 4:12 PM

Well, they wanted change, and this is change…no input at all from the other side of the aisle.
The most complicated, financially reaching bill ever proposed, and they will have total input…after winning by just 3% of the vote, they think that they have 100% of the answers…

right2bright on January 4, 2010 at 5:07 PM

They will have this passed for Zero by the time the SOTU speech so he can get his mug on national tv again. Then on to cap & tax and amnesty. We are so screwed!

Kissmygrits on January 4, 2010 at 5:44 PM

Nelson may be looking for an excuse to rescue himself and block the bill anyway.

Nah, Nelson’s a goner, if he paid attention at all to his home turf constituents’ complaints at all over the holidays. It would have been then that he will have discovered that the bazillions of e-mails and phone calls that he had been receiving in December were not, in fact, simply ‘robocalls’ by Conservatives and/or Republicans.

I’m convinced that, given the truly awful publicity over the deal with Ben Nelson, Reid & Pelosi et al will have already decided that Nelson’s a real liability, and may just have decided to start looking for someone to replace him when he tanks leading up to his 2012 campaign for reelection. And Nelson will only continue to take heat when all the legal challenges are filed by the Attorneys General of the other states who were shut out of special deals and considerations in Obamacare, after all.

KendraWilder on January 4, 2010 at 6:48 PM

And this is why the GOP is a crappy second-rate party. Why weren’t the GOP folks putting together a serious alternative bill, and then offering that as a spoiler against the Dems? Instead, GOP put out a half-hearted bill that they never promoted, repeated one messaging point about buying health care across state lines, and said “NO.” The GOP didn’t give centrist Democrats any options other than to vote NO or to vote with Pelosi. That’s exactly the atmosphere that allows Dingy Harry and Pelosi to buy off those squishy marginal votes, which is exactly what happened.

Has the GOP learned nothing???

Outlander on January 4, 2010 at 12:37 PM

If the GOP comes back into power in Washington then all this will be their cash cow. Typical. The Dems vote in Great Society junk, the Republicans complain about it, but ultimately go along with it. When have the Republicans reversed any of these Socialist programs? Oh, under Reagan many small (and some pretty good) programs were cut, but ultimately the Welfare State only got stronger.

Aside from tort reform and insurance de-regulation there really is no “conservative health care reform”. We believe the government should stay the hell out of it. Reform to us means getting D.C. out of the way.

Not so much the party of “no” as they should be the “do nothings”. We the People should be the doers. But, in a society of sheeple expecting the government to “fix” everything, that’s a hard, hard sell and easy for the Marxists to attack.

Sheeple don’t want to hear about reform, they simply want someone else to pay for it.

Dr. ZhivBlago on January 5, 2010 at 12:00 AM

The debate on the privileges and immunities clause is all very interesting, but the question at hand is whether it allows the feds to favor Nebraska over other states. Can it be used as a basis for declaring this “reform” legislation unconstitutional?

MassVictim on January 4, 2010 at 3:41 PM

Maybe the donks WANT it to go to SCOTUS – they only need a simple majority of 5 to erode the Constitution even further.

We can only count on Alito, Scalia, Roberts & Thomas to stand against the multi-faceted attack on the founding document that Obowmao plainly thinks is defective – listing negative rights, rather than a progressive, living document that Woodrow, FDR and now Obambi plan on skewing in favor of their kind of elites.

Even if SCOTUS slaps down 75% of this monstrosity, the donks have advanced 25% in their ever-incremental lurch to despotism. No, the solution lies in the will of We The People and enough States asserting the 10th. Out w/the bums in 10/12/14!!!

AH_C on January 5, 2010 at 12:16 AM

It really doesn’t matter whether Harry ever lies or contradicts himself. Every word that comes out of his mouth is intended to be (and is) talking points dutifully echoed in the Democrat media, which never puts it into any context, or notes inconsistencies.

The media won’t chastise the Dems for their backroom deals on this, as they would Republicans. They’ll tut tut a little about it, but then say the Republicans forced them to do this because they wouldn’t negotiate.

chris999 on January 5, 2010 at 1:50 AM

This is the reason that Change is essential. Change the party that is in control of your life (literally not figuratively).

MSGTAS on January 5, 2010 at 9:04 AM

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