Monday, February 9, 2009

What to expect (when you're expecting)

Someone who knows these sorts of things provides this very helpful run down of how the reconciling process occurs, assuming that the Senate does pass the stimulus bill later today:
1) Speaker picks the House conferees.
2) Senate can elect conferees, but usually just puts it in the hands of the majority leader by unanimous consent.
3) Politics tends to control who is on the committee.
4) It's highly unlikely that anyone who voted against the bill will be on the committee. It's not crazy, however, to think that the centrists will be represented --- they may have demanded it as part of the bargain. I would imagine Nelson will be on it at a minimum.
5) The number of conferees is not restricted, nor do House and Senate have to have same number.
6) The conference report has to be accepted by a majority of conferees from both chambers before it goes back to the full bodies.
7) sometimes the chambers try to "instruct" the conferees, but these instructions aren't binding.
8) That said, conferees cannot add stuff that's not in either bill. They have to work with what is there.

As for the politics, it is key to remember that a conference committee delegation doesn't represent a political party, especially in the Senate. It represents the final deal worked out in the chamber. the conferees may not be the biggest proponents of the bill, but they know that if they fail to hold the bill in a form that will keep the deal set, they are going to be in the majority leader's doghouse for a good while.

But more to your point, the Senate almost always has the leverage. Definitely true now: since there is zero chance that the current Senate bill would fail an up/down vote in the House, the House has little but cheap talk to bring to the bargaining table. The Senators will basically argue that any change to their bill will jeopardize their ability to break a filibuster of the conference report --- which may or may not be true, but is certainly a plausible possibility. The final bill out of conference will lean toward the Senate version, but there will be concessions both ways. The Senate moderates know this. It would take something pretty big to turn Collins/Specter/Nelson against the bill all of a sudden. And thus a lot of the Senate argument in conference is just bluster. And everyone knows it. So they'll split the difference on a lot of stuff (remember, much of this is basic numbers haggling), and the Senate will win more than the House. But expect something about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way toward the Senate bill form the House bill. That's typical.