Dem Lawmakers Eyeing ‘Ping-Pong’ Tactic to Pass Health Bill Without Committee
January 4, 2010
(ChattahBox)—Although congressional lawmakers are not due back to Capitol Hill for another two-weeks, the process to reconcile the two versions of health care reform have already begun behind the scenes with key congressional and White House aides. And Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic’s The Treatment blog, reports that Democrats are seriously considering bypassing the standard conference committee process to merge the two bills, in light of Republican obstructionism. Two senior Capitol Hill staffers told Cohn that Republicans’ vow to do whatever it takes to kill the bill forced their hand. And it’s “almost certain” lawmakers will employ the so called ‘ping-pong’ tactic to avoid handing Republicans the opportunity to delay and obstruct a a formal conference committee.
According to two senior Capitol staffers from each chamber, Democratic lawmakers are wary of the many procedural hurdles a formal conference would entail, since Republicans have shown their willingness to filibuster even the most minor Democratic legislation. Bypassing the formal conference would do way with the requirement of a number of special motions in the Senate, which would allow Republicans to stall the debate and voting process. Republican delaying tactics forced the Senate to vote on the health care reform bill on Christmas Eve day.
“There will almost certainly be full negotiations but no formal conference,” said the House staffer. “There are too many procedural hurdles to go the formal conference route in the Senate.”
As pointed out by Jonathan Cohn: “On Christmas Eve, when the Senate passed its bill, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell memorably vowed in a floor speech that “This fight isn’t over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law.”‘
So, to provide the country with much-needed health care reform, Democratic lawmakers will negotiate the merging of the two bills privately and send the bill back and forth between the House and Senate, until there is final agreement. Hence, the term, “ping-pong.” “I think the Republicans have made our decision for us,” the Senate staffer says. “It’s time for a little ping-pong.”
What this all means, according to Steve Benen of Washington Monthly’s the Political animal is that the entire process would be expedited with the end result of a final bill sitting on President Obama’s desk by the end of January:
“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.”
The Republicans will of course take to the airwaves and complain about the lack of transparency, but it’s foolish to give Senate Republicans a chance to obstruct, delay and slow the work of the already dysfunctional chamber to a virtual standstill.