Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Congress likely to play ping pong

I always thought that ping pong was a sport people played with paddles and a small ball. Some people even called it table tennis. Silly me. Now I know better. It looks increasingly likely that Congress will be playing ping pong with health reform.

After both the House and the Senate passed their own versions of health reform late in 2009, many presumed that each chamber would appoint representatives to a formal House-Senate conference committee. This committee would then iron out the differences between the two versions and come up with a final health reform bill to be voted on, yet again, by each chamber and then, at long last, sent to the President for his signature.

Now, it looks like Democratic leaders will not go the conference committee route and will instead “ping pong” (and not the game also known as table tennis). Under ping ponging, “the chambers send legislation back and forth to one another until they finally have an agreed-upon version of the bill. But even ping-ponging can take different forms and some people use the term generically to refer to any informal negotiations.” In fact, there could still be full negotiations but no formal conference.

At this point, you might be asking yourself what difference all of this makes. Formal conference committee or ping pong, who cares? Apparently, by ping ponging, instead of having a formal conference committee with all that entails, Democratic leadership can bypass a number of procedural hurdles and deliver a final bill to President Obama’s desk much more quickly than it otherwise could. In fact, some people suggest that it could all happen by late January/early February. We’ll have to wait and see about that but there’s no doubt that things could start to happen quickly now. Almost as fast as the game of ping pong itself.


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