Dems To Bypass Formal Conference, Obama Throws Support Behind Strengthening Affordability Measures

Reps. Nancy Pelosi, James Clyburn, George MillerSenior Democrats have officially confirmed that they will bypass the traditional House-Senate conference process and fast-track the final health care negotiations through informal ‘ping pong’ discussions between the two chambers. “The informal approach would still require the House and Senate to pass identical bills but would minimize the opportunity for Senate Republicans — who united in opposition to the legislation — to slow the process,” the Washington Post reports. “Under the plan, the House would pass the Senate bill amended with new compromise provisions, then send the package back to the Senate for one final vote.”

In a meeting with Democratic Congressional leadership yesterday at the White House, Obama “forcefully communicated” his desire to pass a final health care reform bill in time for the State of the Union address, which the White House has reportedly pushed to February 2nd to give Congress more time to complete their negotiations. Obama “responded to Pelosi’s strong, repeated pitches for the public option by making it clear that, while he supports the proposal, he doesn’t think it is doable” and threw his support behind “several provisions in the Senate health care bill including the tax on so-called Cadillac health care plans ( …) and the Medicare Commission.”

But House leaders aren’t prepared to swallow the whole of the Senate proposal. House aides reveal that Pelosi is “miffed with Obama’s tilt toward the Senate plan and his expectation the House will simply go along with the Senate bill out of political necessity” and suggest that she is focusing on incorporating several ‘getable’ House provisions into the final legislation. Pelosi is pressuring the administration to increase the tax threshold on Cadillac plans (from $21,000 to $28,000 for family plans), adopt stronger affordability measures, end the insurance industry’s exemption from federal antitrust laws, and move up the implementation date for the exchanges from 2014 to 2013.

Obama has reportedly “stated his intention to work with leaders to strengthen affordability … beyond what is in the Senate bill,” but efforts to repeal the anti-trust exemption may run up against the opposition of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), a key 60th vote to ending debate on the conference package.

The Wonk Room has also compiled 11 ideas for improving the final health care bill. See them here.