New Republic reports that, according to some Capitol Hill staffers, the Democrats in Congress will almost certainly bypass a formal conference committee process for health insurance reform legislation, opting instead to work out the details of a compromise bill via informal negotiations. They call that "ping pong."
No doubt Republicans, and perhaps some Democrats also, will scream about being left out of the process, and accuse the Obama administration of failing to be true to its promises of bi-partisanship, transparency, and inclusiveness. But the president already bent over backwards to offer Republicans a chance to contribute to the drafting of this legislation. Changes were made to the bill to accommodate the desires of the Charles Grassleys, etc. But instead of joining with conservative Democrats to participate in creating a compromise bill, Republicans instead chose to delay and obstruct. Even Olympia Snowe, who voted the bill out of committee, refused to vote for the final Senate version, for spurious reasons. (She claimed the bill was being rushed, even though she had supported the bill in committee, and even though the Senate debate on this bill was one of the longest in history.)
The Republican leadership has announced that their only goal is to defeat the bill. If Republicans do not want to be part of the solution, they are part of the problem. Since they have given no indication that they would use the conference committee process for any purpose other than more delay and obstruction, there is no reason to utilize that process. The rules do not require it. The promises of bi-partisanship, transparency, and inclusiveness do not require the Democrats to allow the opposition every possible opportunity to stall progress. If the Republicans want to play a constructive role, they should be included. But if all they want to do is play politics and attempt to defeat reform, they should be steam-rollered.