Democratic Leaders Plan Secret Health Reform Deliberations

The two are setting up a protracted game of ping-pong from the House to the Senate.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Despite their claims to the contrary, the way that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have handled the healthcare bill has been anything but transparent. And, if the left-wing blogosphere is to be believed, the two congressional leaders intend to keep the deliberations secret as they try to merge the House and Senate versions of the legislation into something that will pass both chambers.

The Talking Points Memo website reported Monday that Democrats in both the House and Senate are saying the process will likely follow the path of the House taking up the Senate-passed legislation, amending it and sending it back to the Senate, which will have to pass it again. "This process cuts out the Republicans," a House Democratic aide told TPM, indicating the congressional majority intended to make sure the Republican minority would "not have a motion to recommit opportunity."

It also, say those who are following the issue, allows Pelosi to avoid having to cut deals with problematic House Democrats like Michigan's Bart Stupak, who has promised to do what he can to scuttle the final bill if it provides for federal funding of abortions.

Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is saying much the same thing, according to David Dayen at FireDogLake, another prominent left-wing website.

Dayen reported that the powerful California Democrat told constituents he would be coming back to Washington Tuesday to begin negotiations with Senate leaders and the White House about what a final healthcare bill will look like—even though the House doesn't come back into session until January 12.

According to Waxman, the process for moving will not include the standard House/Senate conference committee, because the motions to select and instruct conferees in the Senate "would need 60 votes all over again." Instead, whatever agreements made could be packaged in an amendment to the bills passed by the House and Senate.

By blocking out the Republicans—not to mention House Democrats who object to what the Senate passed—Pelosi and Reid are setting up a protracted game of "ping-pong," in which the legislation goes back and forth from the Senate to the House and back to the Senate again. They may be able to prevail as far as the legislation goes, ultimately, but at enormous cost to their majorities. And that may be the biggest secret of all as far as the healthcare debate is concerned, or at least the one Pelosi and Reid are most concerned about.

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