Ping Pong: The House Prepares To Take Up The Senate Health Care Bill

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Democratic aides in both the House and Senate have confirmed to TPMDC that the House of Representatives will likely take up the Senate’s health care bill, amend it, and send it back to the Senate for final passage–a process known informally as “ping-pong”–with the hope of avoiding the procedural hurdles that the more standard conference committee process presents.

Confirming a report that first appeared in The New Republic, aides say the process would mimic the conference committee in a number of ways, while at the same time closing out Republicans and streamlining final passage.

They also provided further details.

“Most conferences, everything’s decided by the time you get to the table,” one aide said.

In this case, instead of creating a final conference report that both chambers would pass, principals in both chambers would agree upon a package of changes to the Senate bill that passed on Christmas eve. The House would then vote to amend the Senate bill to reflect those agreed-upon changes, pass the legislation, and send it back over to the Senate for–they hope–a final vote.In the past, Pelosi said she wanted to conference the bills, so that House members could have a greater say over what the final bill looks like.

But aides say the new way forward is not an uncommon process, which allows the House to have similar input, while offering up other advantages as well.

“This process cuts out the Republicans,” said a House Democratic aide. Republicans will “not have a motion to recommit opportunity”–a procedural trick the minority can use to scuttle legislation in the House at the last minute.

Just what the House will demand in exchange for some of the major concessions it will have to accept–most notably the public option–have yet to be finalized, but should become more clear in the hours and days ahead. Under discussion going into holiday recess were fairly major issues, such as whether the exchanges would be organized at the national level (as in the House bill) or at the state level (as in the Senate bill), and whether to adopt the House’s earlier implementation date.

House members will huddle in a caucus conference call later this week to sort out their priorities.

“This week is important in terms of finding out where House members are,” the aide said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM’s senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he’s led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com

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