House Democrats poised to pass on formal conference

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told constituents, as reported by the liberal blog firedoglake, on Monday that there would be no formal conference, with agreements between House and Senate leaders packaged into a single amendment to the bill.

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Another House Democratic aide said that the process is likely to resemble an amendment process in which leadership will consult with various Democratic members, with the bill changing in light of concerns different lawmakers raise.

Democrats would enjoy some strategic advantages by declining the formal conference process. They would avoid having to go through a series of votes on appointing and directing conferees, and having to invoke cloture on a conference report. The process would presumably also allow Democrats to work out differences on the health bill internally, and avoid GOP manuevers to stall passage of the legislation.

More liberal members of the House Democratic Caucus have demanded a conference, in hopes of dragging the more centrist Senate health bill toward the version passed by the House.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who had previously demanded a conference, said he was disappointed by the latest developments. Grijalva said he would raise the issues in Thursday's meeting, but stopped short of saying he would oppose the health legislation without a formal conference.

“I am disappointed that there will be no formal conference process by which various constituencies can impact the discussion," he said. "I have not been approached about my concerns with the Senate bill, and I will be raising those at the Democratic Caucus meeting on Thursday. I and other progressives saw a conference as a means to improve the bill and have a real debate, and now with this behind-the-scenes approach, we’re concerned even more.”