By Ezra Klein, So, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, Congressman Clyburn, Chairman Miller, Chairman Rangel, Chairman Waxman, Leader Reid, Senator Durbin, Chairman Baucus, Chairman Dodd,
Chairman Harkin, Rahm Emanuel, Phil Schiliro, Nancy-Ann DeParle, and President Obama walk into a room…
Wait, have you heard this one before?
Actually, you probably haven’t. Yesterday’s health-care meeting ran from 10:30 a.m. to 6:40 p.m., which is longer than any of these summits have gone before. It also included more of the major players than these sit-downs have included before. Obama apparently attended the bulk of the meeting, ducking out only for updates on Haiti. Vice President Biden and Kathleen Sebelius were in and out, too. Whether anything got decided is hard to say. The official statement is predictably dull: “Today we made significant progress in bridging the remaining gaps between the two health insurance reform bills. We’re encouraged and energized,” etc. and so on.
The bottom line, of course, is that this is the conference committee now. It probably looks a lot like the conference committee would have looked in any case. But it has one advantage the formal conference committee lacked. In the formal process, a point of order can be raised against anything that’s introduced into the conference report that wasn’t specifically in one of the two initial bills. In practice, there’s a fair amount of flexibility here, because you can argue that a new policy is “merged.” But it limits additions, particularly in a context where the Republican Party has settled on raising points of order as a core ideological commitment.
This ad hoc conference committee, which just needs a package of amendments that both chambers can stomach, is bound by votes, but not limited by process.