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Reconciliation Without Conference: The Health Reform Bill Moves Closer to a Vote

Posted Jan 07 2010 12:00am
US Senate Gavel

US Senate Gavel

[Ed. Note: Health Reform Watch is very pleased to welcome Corey Klein to the blog. Corey is both a journalist and a law student here at Seton Hall Law. As a reporter, Corey garnered numerous awards from both the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association. We look forward, as we're sure will you, to his contributions to HRW.]

Congressional Democrats have been attempting to iron out a final health care reform bill behind closed doors this week in order to avoid delay tactics by Republicans, according to media reports.

The House and Senate passed two versions of the bill. Typically, an official public conference would be held to resolve differences between the two versions, but Democrats want to keep Republicans from extending the debate in an effort to stall the bill. President Barack Obama has not been critical of this move, stating that he is eager to sign a health care bill into law as soon as practical, according to Reuters.

A few key differences between the House and Senate versions are how the bill will be financed and whether the bill will include a public health care option.

Congressional Republicans have stated that they would block the bill by any means necessary. In response, Democrats decided to finalize the bill behind closed doors.

If the bill had gone to a public conference, a number of Senators and Representatives would meet together to work out differences between the two bills. The members of the conference committees, known as managers, cannot substantially change the bill, but they could keep provisions in one version of the bill or drop amendments in another. They cannot add any new amendments.

Each house of Congress has several managers. For example, the House may have seven and the Senate may have four. The numbers do not need to be equal.

After reaching a decision, the managers return to their respective houses of Congress and tell their fellow Congressmen and Senators if they were able to agree on all or part of the bill or if they were not able to agree on the bill.

If they were able to agree on the entire bill, the bill is revoted upon in both houses. If they were not able to agree on the entire bill, or if they were only able to agree on parts of it, the bill returns to the conference committee. If the differences are too vast, the bill could just die out.

The members of these conference committees are usually senior members of standing committees. These conference committees would have been made up of members of both parties and high-ranking Republicans vowed to block efforts to let the bill leave their respective committees to go up for a final vote.

Also, the House and Senate support the bill by slim margins, with some Democrats opposing certain aspects of the bill. By negotiating informally and out of the public eye, Democrats can bring a final version of the bill to a vote without a formal conference.

Democrats responded by negotiating with their own party behind closed doors. The decision to finalize the bill behind closed doors was met with some criticism. CSPAN has issued a letter to Democrats urging them to make the negotiations public.

Republicans seized on CSPAN’s letter as evidence that Democrats were not being transparent, but Democrats dismissed these criticisms as further efforts to kill the legislation.

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