The Senate appears on the verge of passing
its version of health care reform. All Senate Democrats must do is hold together their coalition
of 60 "yes" votes between now and the final vote, which is expected on Christmas eve. Assuming that happens, the Senate and House will then have to merge their bills. The Senate version does
not include a public health insurance option, while the House's does.
The House bill also has tougher restrictions against abortions. The
conference committee, responsible for combining the two bills into one
uniform bill that both houses will then vote on, has its work cut out for it.
- Biggest Challenge Is Abortion The New York Times's Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn write that, for Democrats, abortion is "the
issue that most complicates their drive to merge the Senate and House
bills and send final legislation to President Obama." They write, "In
the House, advocates and opponents of abortion rights and
conservative Democrats have made clear that they object, for different
reasons, to the Senate's compromise language on abortion. Interest
groups on both sides of the spectrum -- Planned Parenthood
on the abortion rights side, Catholic bishops for the anti-abortion
rights camp -- also oppose the abortion provision in the Senate bill."
But any deal that brings together House Democrats could unravel the
coalition of Senate Democrats, risking the entire bill.
- Don't Get Bogged Down In These Details The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson urges Democrats to look at the big picture. "The Senate bill lacks a public health insurance option, the House bill
is burdened by gratuitous abortion restrictions and the final product
of a House-Senate conference will probably have both those failings.
But once the idea of universal health care is signed into law, it will
be all but impossible to erase," he writes. "Even if it takes years to get it right, eventually is better than
never. History suggests that major new social initiatives have to be
perfected over time -- and that basic entitlements, once established,
are rarely taken away."
- House Should Just Copy Senate's Bill Mother Jones's Kevin Drum asks,
"should the House just skip the conference committee on healthcare
reform entirely and simply vote on the bill produced by the Senate?"
The public option will have to be cut from the House version, the
Senate version has looser abortion restrictions, and the other
differences might not be worth the trouble. "[I]t's hard to see any
other substantial improvements that are likely to come out of it. So:
go to conference and risk another month of squabbling and possible
defections? Or take the imperfect Senate bill and get it passed for
certain within a few days of returning from recess?" Drum says the
- Opportunity For Improvement The Huffington Post's Robert Hickey thinks the bill can come out even better. "I
urge my fellow progressive activists (and liberals in the House and
Senate) to work to improve the bill - through conference and final
passage - not to kill it," he tells liberals discouraged by the
sacrifices made in the Senate. "[I]f Obama and the Democratic party
play their cards right, they will
present this legislation not as the only legislation we will need, but
rather as the first step in a series of reforms that will eventually
achieve what the American people want."
Why Conference Is So Bizarre Congressional Quarterly's Taegan Goddard quotes
Walter Oleszek. "No formal rules, such as quorum or proxy voting
requirements, govern internal conference committee bargaining. The only
stipulation is that the conferences must meet formally at least once in
open session. The lack of rules is deliberate to foster an informal
give-and-take environment conducive to reaching bicameral compromises,
especially when the chambers have passed starkly different measures. As
a Ways and Means chairman said of trying to meld major bicameral
differences on a health bill, 'It's akin to mating a Chihuahua with a
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