By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Despite the fact that it is as cold in Washington as it has ever been, the heat is rising over the news that congressional Democrats and the White House are planning to play "ping-pong" with America's healthcare system. As reported Monday by a variety of blogs, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have spent the congressional recess trying to devise a plan that will allow them to get legislation through Congress to create a wholly revamped U.S. healthcare system in a way that minimizes the risk of the bill being stopped in either the House or Senate.
Typically, when the House and Senate pass different versions of the same legislation, a bi-cameral conference committee is conveyed, where senior members of the House and Senate negotiate on the language of a bill until both sides come up with something they can agree on. On healthcare, as many senior Democrats now concede, going to a conference committee would be equivalent to opening up the whole can of worms all over again, putting its final passage in jeopardy.
By playing "ping pong" with the bill, Pelosi and Reid hope to minimize the chance that any single change will provide the impetus for the bill's defeat, something that is easily possible given how difficult it was to get the House and Senate to pass the bill in the first place.
The secrecy attached to such a strategy is not going down at all well. Brian Lamb, the head of C-SPAN, sent a letter to Pelosi and Reid—as my bloleague Doug Heye wrote about here earlier today—asking for the conference proceedings to be opened to cameras from his network.
That proposal was quickly seconded by GOP congressional leaders, including Ohio Republican John Boehner who told Lamb, "As House Republican Leader, I can confidently state that all House Republicans strongly endorse your proposal and stand ready to work with you to make it a reality."
Playing up on the popular complaints about the bill, which the latest polls indicate a majority of Americans now oppose, Boehner added, "Hard-working families won't stand for having the future of their health care decided behind closed doors. These secret deliberations are a breeding ground for more of the kickbacks, shady deals and special-interest provisions that have become business as usual in Washington. Too much is at stake to have a final bill built on payoffs and pork-barrel spending."
Others, like Indiana Republican Mike Pence, the House's No. 3 Republican leader, continue to reference Barack Obama's campaign commitment to televise all the healthcare negotiations.
"More than a year ago, President Obama promised voters that health care negotiations would be televised," Pence said in a statement released by his office. "In a mad rush to get a health care bill to the president's desk, that promise has been broken time and time again. The recent request by C-SPAN provides the president one last chance to make good on his promise for openness in the health care debate. The American people deserve a seat at the table."