What’s ahead: Blue Dogs, the conference committee, and presidential involvement
Things seem to be murky as we look ahead in health care reform. People are saying all different things – Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi seems to think we’ll get all the committees to finish their bills by August (as the self-imposed timeline dictates), but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer doesn’t agree. There has been talk of compromises about abortion issues as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee talking of transferring the responsibility of cuts to federal health care programs to an outside panel. In addition, the media is making headlines out of setbacks and largely ignoring success stories in health reform. Leadership walks a fine line between pacifying moderate Democrats and not enraging progressives.
A very complicated part of the process is yet to come – the conference committee. This is a group put together by leadership of the parties (speaker of the House and senate majority leader as well as minority leaders). Conference committees are formed when complex bills from both chambers need to be melded into big pieces of legislation. Each party is to be represented in the correct ratio, and chair people and members of all the committees involved in the legislation are included in conference committee. There are a few set rules for when a piece of legislation goes to conference committee: no new amendments can be added, and no pieces can be taken out if they are agreed on by both chambers of congress. Other than that, the committee is left to determine the best way to synthesize the two bills, with usually significant oversight by the president.
Once the Senate Finance Committee and House Energy and Commerce come out with their versions of the bill, we can expect to see a conference committee created. Should be…tedious.