Obamacare Ping Pong

The left is discussing the breaking news that the Democrat leadership in the House and Senate plan on using a “Ping Pong” strategy to pass Obamacare.  This strategy avoids a conference committee and allows the liberal leaders to put themselves behind closed doors, in secret, to write an update to Obamacare.  Yet again, the elites in Washington exclude the American public and all members of the minority party from this secret sausage making process.

Sam Stein wrote in Huffington Post

The goal, in the end, is to expedite the congressional process by keeping it removed from Republican procedural shenanigans. By skipping a formal conference committee, for example, Democrats can avoid dealing with motions to recommit on contentious issues (whether they be Medicare cuts, late-life consultation, abortion or anything else). This, in turn, provides a narrower window for the GOP to turn the bill into a series of wedge issues and means that there is less of a potential for moderate and conservative Democrats to grow skittish about supporting the legislation.

The real goal of this process is to further disallow any dissent by Republicans and moderate Democrats, shut the American people out of the process, and further curtail opportunities for members to force votes on elements of Obamacare.  Stein further reports that there will be a meeting of the whole House Democrat Caucus, with some members calling into the meeting if they can’t attend in person, to discuss the outlines of a deal.  No Republicans are allowed to participate in this one sided conference, nor will the American people be allowed to even watch this official meeting to negotiate the future of American health care.

What is a Ping Pong?  The Ping Pong is an amendment between the House and Senate.  (Thanks to Open CRS) The Congressional Research Service (CRS) describes the procedures as follows in the report “Amendments between the Houses.”

When the House or Senate passes a measure, it is sent to the other chamber for further consideration. If the second chamber passes the measure with one or more amendments, it is then sent back to the originating chamber. In modern practice, the second chamber typically substitutes its version of a measure as a single amendment to the measure as passed by the first chamber. The first chamber then may accept the amendment or propose its own further amendment. In this way, the measure may be messaged back and forth between the House and Senate in the hope that both houses will eventually agree to the same version of a measure.

How this works in practice is that the House passed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) version of Obamacare, but the Senate refused to take that bill up.  The Senate moved to proceed to a House passed tax bill (for the purposes of avoiding violating the constitutional mandate that all revenue measures originate in the House) because they wanted to keep their options open to use a Ping Pong strategy.  The Senate gutted the House passed tax measure and inserted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) version of Obamacare.  Leader Reid inserted a few earmarks, dumped the public option and passed his bill with a managers package of amendments that bought just enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. 

Now this bill goes to the House where the House has the option of passing this bill intact, then sending it to the President.  They may choose to pass the bill, then work on a technical corrections bill to take another run at the pubic option, reform the tax provisions and further modify the abortion provisions.  More likely, the House takes up the Senate bill and inserts a complete substitute including measures they think can pass the Senate with a 60 vote majority.  Remember, unless if they somehow use a Reconciliation strategy, they need 60 votes to pass this measure again in the Senate.  Then the Senate can either pass the new bill or continue the Ping Pong process until one chamber can pass the bill intact.  Bottom line is that this process will cut out any significant participation by the public, the press and all federally elected Republicans.  So much for transparency and broadcasting the negotiations on C-Span.