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1/5/2010
Burri: Yup, Dems really are going to bypass a conference

Breaking news today: Senate and House leaders will not take their various and sundry health care “reform” bills to a conference committee. Instead, they’ll negotiate informally. Unofficially. They’ll bypass normal Congressional procedure in an attempt to “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.”

Yeah, those horrible Republicans, planning to use public debate to “stall” the health care “reform” bill.

Quick aside: I know there are really only two versions of the bill. I just like using the phrase “various and sundry.”

Quick aside #2: if you regularly read FoxPolitics, you probably already know what a conference committee is. If not, click here.

Back to the story: Whether or not this move will, in fact, help the Democrats seems unclear. Yes, they’ll bypass a number of procedural motions that they’d normally have to vote on. But they’ll still have to win the final vote, and that’ll still require cloture – they’ll need 60 in the Senate to break a filibuster.

Both houses skated over millimeter-thick ice to pass their respective bills in the first place. Last-second compromises and deals not just recommended, but required. In the House, a mini-revolt of pro-life Democrats meant an amendment limiting federal funding for abortions. In the Senate, the “public option” was dropped. Without these deals, the bills wouldn’t have passed.

Whether or not Democrat leaders can craft a compromise to protect their already-shaky coalitions…well, that’s a question.

Another question: how far can they push their real liberal “progressive” members – not just with concessions and compromises, but with the smoke-filled back-roomishness the whole process is taking on?
To be sure, many expect House liberals to ultimately support the plan no matter how this process plays out. But House progressives are already infuriated by the multiple concessions they’ve been forced to make, and cutting them out of the process could only bruise feelings more and harden their resolve to hold the line against the eventual compromise.
That’s Greg Sargent, writing at The Plum Line. Like he said, many (most, all) liberals – not just House liberals – will likely support whatever bill comes out of their respective houses. To do otherwise would be handing themselves a major defeat.

But it wouldn’t take many liberal “progressive” members jumping ship to sink the whole thing. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus:
I and other progressives saw a conference as a means to improve the bill and have a real debate, and now with this behind-the-scenes approach, we’re concerned even more.
It also wouldn’t take much to knock Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) off the “yes” list. Nelson, you may recall, was the last Senate Democrat to say “yes,” but only after getting $100 million in pork – a “Cornhusker kickback” – for Nebraska.

Enter the magic of unintended consequences: Nelson's poll numbers immediately plummeted so far and fast that he bought commercial time during the Nebraska-Arizona bowl game. And he’s not up for re-election until 2012.

Any tiny change to the bill will give him the excuse he needs.

Am I confident? Nope. Optimistic? Not really. With such large majorities in both houses and a liberal Democrat president, Democrats can’t afford to pass nothing, health care-wise. And I’ve said before: I’m more worried about a slow, little-bit-at-a-time approach than about a great, big, everything-right-now approach.

Still: Conservatives and Republicans are united in opposition. If this bill has problems, it’s because liberals and Democrats can’t agree.

And liberals and Democrats can’t, it would appear, agree.

Lance Burri blogs regularly via his site, The TrogloPundit.