An unlikely game of ‘ping-pong’

AN UNLIKELY GAME OF ‘PING-PONG’…. Those who’ve been following the health care reform debate know what to expect in terms of procedure. If all goes well, the Senate will overcome a Republican filibuster and pass a bill. It will then go to conference, where leaders from both chambers will work out their difference. From there, it would get a final vote in the House, and, after overcoming another Republican filibuster, a final vote in the Senate. Then, on to the White House for a signature.

At least, that’s the likely procedural scenario. Over the last few days, there’s been some talk about expediting the process by bypassing the conference committee — and in the process, skipping one of the two key Republican filibusters — through what’s called the “ping-ponging” process.

There is increased chatter on Capitol Hill about a possible “ping-ponging” of the Senate health care bill: that chamber would pass its health care bill, send it to the House and the House would be asked to pass it with no changes and send it directly to the president.

That limits the options of congressional critics — under the usual procedure, lawmakers dissatisfied with the bill pushed through their chamber can win changes through adroit political maneuvering in conference committee negotiations.

“It’s the only scenario by which we could actually get this whole thing done before the New Year. The House has indicated they’d consider it, depending on what the final bill looks like over here after we finish with the sausage-making,” said a senate Democratic aide involved in the health care fight.

I find this interesting, largely as an intellectual exercise, but I find it exceedingly unlikely to happen. Indeed, House liberals are already balking at some of the proposed compromise measures, making it that much less likely the chamber would accept the entire Senate bill at face value.

That said, if Dems were going to pursue this, it’s not impossible. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would need to start coordinating with House leaders — a step that, by all appearances, hasn’t happened — and incorporating House provisions into a catch-all “manager’s amendment.” In effect, the negotiations that would occur during a conference committee would occur now, in the hopes of saving time.

If the Senate bill could be sufficiently tweaked to satisfy a House majority, then “ping-ponging” the bill to the president’s desk remains a possibility, as is the chance to actually sign the bill into law before the end of the calendar year.

I wouldn’t count on it — in fact, since it would effectively require the House to cede much of its role, I’d bet against it — but it’s an angle to keep an eye on.

David Waldman, who knows more about procedural issues than I do, has more about how all of this could/would work.