Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Conference Committee Carnage!

Via Matt, we hear happy reports that the Obama Administration is finally going to forget about GOP support for passing health care reform. You'd think that they would've made this decision when no Republicans voted for their stimulus package, if not sometime in 2003. I know that moaning about your defeated primary candidate is the third-worst kind of political commentary behind making up false death panel rumors and poxy Higher Broderism, but I'm pretty sure that my guy wouldn't have spent so long in bipartisan mode. Of course, Congress is still a hard place to pass things, and John Edwards' wayward spermatozoa would've wrecked his political capital long ago, but there wouldn't have been any of this waiting on Republicans for months while the economy nibbles your poll numbers down.

But that's all beside the point. Good on Barack for finally getting here. Because the moment when I most want to see brutal partisan depravity is still ahead of us. I speak of conference committee, where the House and Senate bills will be reconciled. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter describes how things went back in 2003 when the Republicans were pushing Medicare Part D through Congress:
Next, the conference process, whereby the House and Senate versions of legislation are reconciled, was fundamentally corrupted and kept almost entirely secret by senior Republicans. Democrats on the conference committee were excluded from deliberations, to the point of being physically barred from the conference room on one occasion. The pharmaceutical industry, however, was invited in.
Can we physically bar Republicans from the conference room and invite Jacob Hacker in? (Maybe he could carry Jane Hamsher around and wave her at people who don't like the public option.) If Olympia Snowe votes for the bill, she can come too. But when people are dead set against your legislation and trying to destroy it for political advantage, there's no reason to let them have any say in how it's modified. If not by physically barring them from the room, Republicans who voted against the bill should have zero impact on the legislation and their comments should be curtly ignored, while the Democrats who voted for health care reform turn it into the kind of bill that fits the values of their party.

Look, conference committee is kind of a monstrosity. Feel free to add the prospect of its elimination to the list of reasons why we want to abolish the Senate and go unicameral. But while America has a ridiculously bottlenecky political system where nobody can ever pass anything because there are so many more veto points than in other major democracies, we're going to have to use all the weird side processes legally possible to get solutions to major national problems through Congress. If Republican-style conference committee brutality gets normalized, that may not be such a bad thing for a system like ours.
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