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Congressional happenings and…..ping pong?

Harry Reid will hold a closed-door chat with his Senatorial caucus at 5 ET, with a possible press conference to follow. The CBO score is the topic at hand (which will also be released to the general public today), and initial reports show the bill comes in below the $900B mark. Details on the bill itself will emerge over the next few days, though a family emergency in the Baucus family causing a visit home may delay a ‘motion to proceed’ vote until early next week as every single ‘yes’ vote is needed to open floor debate.

I’ve learned a good deal about legislative procedures over the course of the reform effort, and today’s lesson was on Ping Pong. To my chagrin it does not entail a D vs. R bracket-style tournament to determine the fate of the health reform bill, but rather describes a maneuver that could circumvent the need for Conference Committee. The Democratic leadership is looking for ways to expedite the legislative process in order to pass a final bill before year’s end, as a full-blown multi-week Conference Committee (where the House and Senate bills are ultimately merged) will make that impossible. Ping pong is a process where Senator Reid would insert his reforms into the passed House bill, send it to the floor for a vote, then send it back to the House where it is either passed in full or amended for a new vote to send back to the Senate. This process could continue through several ‘bounces’ back and forth before a bill is agreed upon in full. Ping…pong…rally…ON! The housing and bank bailouts were passed this way, though the comprehensive nature of health reform could make the process much more difficult if pursued.

In addition to Ping Pong, reconciliation is an alternative to Conference Committee (though still highly unlikey), and the more recently discussed ‘mini-Conference’ shortcut. The mini-Conference would essentially take place through Congressional offices in order to hash out the two Houses’ differences, with major input from the White House in order to meld a single bill. This is how the stimulus package was passed quickly earlier this year, though it clearly creates a target for opponents who wish to slow the process by any means necessary. As the bills begin to look more similar by the day, though, Conference Committee is seemingly becoming more of a formality and the mini-Conference process could be more realistic.