Thursday 24 September 2009

The House-Senate conference report

If Obama wants the public option – and it seems he does – he can try to get it into the Baucus bill, or get it into the merged Baucus-HELP bill, or get it in the House-Senate conference after each chamber passes its own bill, or get it through reconciliation. It looks as though the White House is preparing for a possible battle in the conference.

It seems that Pelosi is working to push the House Republicans hard and pass as liberal a health care bill as she can. She backed down and allowed a 72-hour wait between posting the bill online and holding the final vote, but otherwise she has had the bit between her teeth: with House liberals confident that she has the votes for the public option, she is pushing for that, and rejecting a compromise “trigger” plan; she is also throwing an elbow at the Republicans on another front, by attaching a continuing resolution to the liberal spending package, so the Republicans can’t fight the liberal programs without shutting down the government (she may have used this tactic because the Republicans just did it to her a few years ago, or she may have done it because the Republicans openly admitted they intended to try to add poison-pill amendments to make the Democrats look bad). Some believe that Pelosi wants a very liberal House bill on health reform so that she has better leverage in the bicameral conference negotiations, if the Senate passes a bill without the public option. So she has a very good reason to ignore the House Blue Dogs.

In the Senate the Democrats are fighting back against the Republican nonsense: Conrad got into a fracas with Kyl, and Baucus slapped Kyl down for delaying the work of the Finance Committee. Rockefeller said flat out that Cornyn was being “run” by the insurance industry. On one issue, the Republicans were undercutting each other: McConnell was starting the “Democrats will cut Medicare” singalong for Republicans, but he was undercut by Lamar Alexander -- “There may very well be savings that could be in Medicare Advantage”.

The Democrats are, however, making more concessions in the Senate. So far the Baucus bill will probably have mandates without price controls, which could make prices skyrocket even for people who do have insurance; and Reid, who wants to lift the insurers’ anti-trust exemption, is not pushing to include such a provision in the Baucus bill even though 94 percent of the national insurance markets are not competitive. The Senate Democrats are bending over backwards to avoid provoking the insurers and the far right – but why? What has that gotten them so far?

In one ominous note, Conrad was doing the work of the insurance industry, claiming that the European health systems are not government-run, which is hogwash.

With public opinion in Massachusetts greatly favoring the early seating of a new Senator, there is no sign that the local GOP will challenge Kirk’s swearing-in tomorrow; with 60 Senators in the Democratic caucus, Bernie Sanders is leading the effort to ensure that all 60 of them for cloture. But with the battle in the Senate dragging on and on, Rahm Emanuel seems to be expecting the House to pass the public option, but not the Senate, whereupon the conference report will hash out the differences. The White House may be choosing the House-Senate conference as their battlefield of choice, or possibly shoring up that option as their recourse of last resort.

I’m still researching whether a conference report needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster or not. It probably does.

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