Skipping Conference Committee: What Does It Mean?


Earlier today, Jonathan Cohn broke the news that House and Senate Democrats are “almost certainly” going to bypass the official conference committee process to pass the health care reform bill. The reasoning given by Democrats is that going to conference allows Republicans with multiple opportunities to block or delay the bill’s ultimate passage. David Waldman gives a great run-down of the rules that would allow for further delay. The move to conference would require multiple Senate votes on moving to conference and appointing conferees, all processes that are subject to cloture votes (60 votes) and require 30 hours of debate. Skipping conference eliminates these cloture votes and requires lawmakers to only cast votes on the final passage of the bill. While providing the speedier passage of the bill, skipping conference presents some transparency-related problems.

Recently adopted and long standing House and Senate rules require conference committees to be generally open to the public. Both House and Senate rules require that all conference committee meetings be open to the public unless a majority of conferees votes in open session to close the meetings. Senate rules require all conference committee reports be publicly available for at least 48 hours prior to a final vote. Without conference, there is no mechanism to provide for openness in the final discussions regarding the health care bill.

Other conference rules provide for openness within the conference committee rather than public openness. These provisions require that conference committees not exclude conferees from decisions or refuse them the ability to see documents or participate in meetings. It will be much easier to exclude potentially difficult members (coming from both the left and right) without a formal conference.

The forgoing of formal conference isn’t entirely uncommon — and, in the end, everyone will still have to go on the record as for or against the final bill. At the same time, the process may speed up the bill’s passage while potentially limiting both the public’s and many of their elected official’s ability to consider the changes to the bill. As with every other major moment of consideration during this bill’s journey, both chambers should make the final version (conference report, amendment, substitute) available for at least 72 hours prior to consideration.

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  • Garth

    Time is on our side for defeat of the health care bill. the longer it can be delayed the more the population can be mobilized against it. That’s the reason they are trying to expedite it. The people CAN make a difference if we are active and make ourselves heard. Call, write , blog, make a noise!! and demand that your representatives represent you!

  • All this secret negoiations behind closed doors is bad. It will only encourage some to violence.

    Obama should know better but he is not about democracy as much as he is about pushing socialism.

    Well Obama and company will reap major problems in the end as they sow discord by these kind of actions.

  • So it makes no difference. Neither, since the negotiations are being conducted by leadership, do the official and often tedious proceedings of committee meetings, at which Republicans, blue dogs, and everyone else can be heard and go on the record.

    For that matter, floor debate is usually meaningless and often presented simply for local consumption in the jurisdiction of the speaker. Useless!!

    Come to think of it, elections themselves are usually perfunctory: Look at the percent of incumbents who retain their seats. They really are a waste of valuable time and resources: Just think of the dollars that are spent in losing, not to mention hopeless causes. LET’S FOREGO THEM!

    And then, the party system would be totally unnecessary! It serves only to select – often arbitrarily or economically – individuals to run for office in the aforesaid meaningless elections. What a waste!!

    The process is pathetic! Especially as we have a mechanism that has fore-ordained the outcome on health care reform:

    Pelosi, Reid, and Messiah Obama are already in place as the PERFECT TRIUMVERATE to rule us all.

    Any and everything else is simply superfluous and a waste, depriving us of resources vitally needed to stop global warming, open our (artificial, capricious) borders, and combat the total absurdity, in this day and age, of such so-called “rights” as to arms and property!

    REVOLUTION!!!!! NOW!!!!!!!!!!!

  • And even though the bill won’t have a conference report, the same data will be appended to the congressional record and referenced in the bill’s coversheet.