Both sides abandoned bi-partisanship concerning health care reform a long, long time ago. Now it’s official, as these things go.
With both chambers having passed a version of comprehensive health care reform the bills are headed for a House-Senate conference committee. Usually this committee, made up of both Democrats and Republicans, iron out differences between the two proposals and produces something both the House and Senate can be expected to pass.
There are a lot of formal, procedural issues involved in this process. Usually, for example, three formal votes need to be held in both the Senate and the House before the conference committee formally convenes. Since each vote can be filibustered in the Senate, Democrats would need to bring all 60 members of its caucus to the floor for each of these votes. Then, at least in the Senate (I’m not sure about the House) there can be votes on non-binding recommendations to the conference committee members. As noted in an Associated Press article, this would “require Democrats to vote on political controversies such as wiping out the legislation’s proposed cuts in Medicare ….” As 2010 is an election year, this is a political weapon Democrats would prefer to keep out of the hands of the GOP.
So, according to the AP article, Democrats in Congress, along with the White House, are intent on bypassing the traditional conference committee procedures, reducing the opportunity for the GOP to force embarrassing votes or to delay a final version of health care reform legislation. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Congressional procedures, so I can’t explain how this is done or why it’s permitted. But the “why” and “how” is less important than the fact of it.
What this means is that negotiations over the final version of health care reform will be conducted solely among Democrats. This was going to happen anyway as there is no common ground between the parties on the legislation. As a result, the votes of Democratic moderates become even more clearly critical to passage of the reform legislation. It also means that Congress is far more likely to achieve its goal of putting health care reform legislation on President Barack Obama’s desk before his State of the Union address anticipated to be given in early February.
Republicans will still be vocal on health care reform. They’ll still seek to delay the legislation. Their task, however, will now be much more difficult.