TNR: No conference committee for ObamaCare

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.