With the completion of debate in the Senate and House over the health care reform bill and a move towards reconciling the two pieces of legislation, a Senate Democratic aide confirmed Monday to Truthout that the two chambers plan to forgo a formal conference committee in hopes of getting the final bill passed quickly.
The aide, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said an informal conference committee hearing will be convened to negotiate the differences between the House and the Senate health care versions of the bill.
The aide added that discussions will be led primarily by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and President Obama in conjunction with their House and Senate colleagues.
“I think the Republicans have made our decision for us,” a “>Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) said in 2007 that when deciding to forgo formal negotiations, “We have to defer to the bigger picture.”
Legislators such as House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel and other Democrats said at the time that because the bill on children’s health insurance (negotiated informally) largely chose the Senate version over that proposed by the House, the House had been “cut off at the knees.” However, in the final negotiations, they supported the proposed bill.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), chair of the Budget Committee, already warned that the Senate may have disproportionate weight in the final decisions. If the final bill “isn’t close to the Senate bill, there will be no way to get the 60 votes here” to shut off debate and pass the final product in the case of a conference, “>this shouldn’t be news to members of the Senate,” said Lori Lodes, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union, which is heavily involved in health care negotiations.
The House bill relies heavily on a tax increase to fund its reform, while the Senate version plans to tax some health insurance plans to fund its increased coverage. The House bill also allows the government to work toward lower drug prices, is projected to cover more people, includes a public option and would kick in a year earlier (2013) than the Senate plan.
However, it has much more stringent abortion regulations, passed in the form of the Stupak Amendment, which many say would make it nearly impossible for a low-income woman to obtain an abortion at an affordable rate. Many conservative Democrats in the House and Senate were unhappy with what they considered lax measures to prohibit the federal funding of abortion.
According to “>statement made by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) following the successful passage of the bill on the Senate floor, “This fight isn’t over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law.”