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Who killed conference committee?

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I've read it over a couple of times, and I'm not sure what the point of this Byron York post actually is. The argument appears to be that the House and Senate have previously resolved their legislative differences through conference committee, and the fact that they're using an amendment strategy this time proves ... something. It's not clear what exactly that something is, but it speaks ill of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

Actually, it's just evidence that York wasn't paying attention. A lot of us -- myself included -- actually wanted a conference committee for health care. But Mitch McConnell (under pressure from Jim DeMint and other conservative hardliners) was threatening to object to the appointment of conferees. As Fox News reported:

Few realize it was the Republicans who blocked the start of the open, conference committee process. On Christmas Eve, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) informed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that he would object on the floor if Democrats tried to appoint their conferees to the conference committee. The appointment of conferees is often routine and is the first step in the conference committee process. But not in the health care poker match. The Senate’s cardinal rule is “unanimous consent.” And the threat of an objection by the minority leader to a request by the majority leader can bring the Senate to a screeching halt.

So Democrats decided to go another way. Oddly, York is using the conference committee debacle to argue against my recent column lamenting the costs of letting the Senate devolve into a competition of rule-exploitation. But it's actually evidence for my argument: If Democrats hadn't been trying to avoid a parliamentary maneuver to obstruct conference committee and consume precious weeks of floor time in the ensuing negotiations and procedural wrangling, we would have had a conference committee.

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press Photo.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 8, 2010; 10:08 AM ET
 
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Comments

"If Democrats hadn't been trying to avoid a parliamentary maneuver to obstruct conference committee and consume precious weeks of floor time in the ensuing negotiations and procedural wrangling, we would have had a conference committee."

Yeah, but you'd still have problems getting a bill that would garner the support of a majority of the House and Senate.

Posted by: bgmma50 | March 8, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

It is still Harry Reid's fault.
He refused to appoint more GOPers than Dems to the committees.

Posted by: gratis11 | March 8, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I followed the opinion up until the mention of "precious weeks of floor time [consumed] in the ensuing negotiations and procedural wrangling". I look forward to evidence that floor time has been spent in such procedural wrangling: it is the lack of consumption of floor time -- floor time made scare by the Majority Leader's propensity for vacations and fund-raising -- that makes procedural maneuvers an attractive alternative to actual debate.

Senator Durbin (and Senator Byrd) is correct: procedural maneuvers would be far less attractive if a cost -- both a cost of floor time and a cost of fund-raising time -- was actually involved. Using the least expensive means of argument makes economic sense.

Posted by: rmgregory | March 8, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Wouldn't the conference committee have produced a bill that would have had to go through the Senate again? Wasn't that impossible after Scott Brown and his truck were elected? Could the committee have produced the result of the House passing the Senate bill and both houses passing tweaks through reconcilliation?

And god damn does Mitch McConnell look like a turtle. That is creepy as hell.

Posted by: MosBen | March 8, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

"Wouldn't the conference committee have produced a bill that would have had to go through the Senate again? Wasn't that impossible after Scott Brown and his truck were elected?"

I believe that's a "yes" on both counts. In fact, I thought it was Scott Brown's election and the end of the filubuster proof majority that killed the conference committee, but perhaps not.

"Could the committee have produced the result of the House passing the Senate bill and both houses passing tweaks through reconcilliation?"

I believe that the committee would have tried to agree upon a melded legislation that would then have had to pass both the House and the Senate. Completely different process, but same problem: obtaining a majority vote in both houses for the same legislation.

Posted by: bgmma50 | March 8, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Ezra's debating a column from Byron York? That's like trying to debate "death panels".

Posted by: TruthHurts2 | March 8, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

This is the equivilent of the onside kick in football. Sure, the other side rolls its eyes when it happens, but it's still within the rules.

Posted by: boloboffin1 | March 8, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

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