By Request: Conference Committees


JoeJoeJoe asks:

It was common in the Bush years for the Senate Dems to get to pass a lot of bipartisan happy horseshit in Senate bills only to see the final bills stripped of any more moderate provisions by the House GOP during reconciliation.

What effect do you think the reconciliation process will have on bills in Congress? Do you think the Senate will pass more conservative bills on just about ever subject, only to see the bills move left in the reconciliation process with the House? A lot has been said about the cloture hurdle in the Senate but isn’t the level of compromise that Speaker Pelosi will accept in reconciliation another boundary in the process?

Confusingly, the parliamentary procedure at issue here isn’t “reconciliation” (which has to do with the budget) but the conference committee to settle House-Senate differences. And it’s true that this is an important subject that shouldn’t be overlooked. The extent to which this actually winds up making a difference, however, depends on the extent to which Senate Democrats genuinely want to play hardball. The Senate GOP leadership in the Bush years was dominated by hard-core conservatives who recognized the practical need to get moderate Republicans and a few Democrats to vote for bills in order to pass them. So given the opportunity to score wins through hardball procedural tactics, they took them. Typically this would mean passing a more moderate version of a bill in the senate, then stacking the conference committee with only far-right senators, then basically reporting out the House bill and cramming it down the senate’s throat.

I don’t think it’s right to see guys like Harry Reid and Kent Conrad and Max Baucus in that same light. They’ll push moderate bills because they favor moderate legislation. That will, I think, put a real limit on their desire to use conference committee chicanery to push things further left. It’s important to recall that the parties are fundamentally not symmetrical. Moderate Republicans are a smallish group whose votes matter but who don’t have real intraparty clout. Moderate Democrats aren’t like that at all. You would never in a million years, for example, see a GOP equivalent of the Gillibrand appointment.