By now the Republican strategy is clear. They will attempt to obstruct and drag out the process of moving health reform legislation every way possible. I guess the thinking is to maximize the chances of a health reform train wreck that would occur if one Democratic Senator changes his or her mind or is unable to vote (e.g. due to illness).
The objection will not eliminate the possibility of a conference; Democrats can resort to a fallback. They can propose a motion to appoint conferees, which is subject to filibuster. It would likely require 3 separate cloture votes to pass the motion to appoint conferees.
There is another fallback in the form of the so-called ping-pong. The House could opt to skip a conference and just vote on the Senate bill. Doing so would eliminate the possibility of making changes to the Senate bill, some of which could be beneficial. Thus, one of the consequences of the Republican strategy is to put the Senate in charge of health policy. Much of the House wrangling over the issue will have been for naught (aside from political spillover effects). So much for the two-chamber legislature (paging Founding Fathers).
There could be a few things done in conference that would improve health reform legislation. Put an emphasis on few. There really is very little political wiggle room on most things. Where there is some room it isn’t clear the likely outcome of a conference would be to dramatically improve things. (I’ll just refer back to the Kevin Drum piece I’ve already cited twice above.)
But here is one thing: the so-called Senate free-rider provision. That’s the Senate’s no-good-very-bad (and complicated) version of the House’s employer pay-or-play “mandate.” As far as I can tell it’s still in the Senate bill and the manager’s amendment [pdf] doesn’t alter it. I’ve covered it in detail in earlier posts (on both Senate and House employer provisions). It’d be a good thing if the House version prevailed. Without a conference I am not aware of any way it could.
That’s just one possible consequence of Republican obstructionism. From a tortured process comes a twisted policy. The sausage factory is replete with horrors. A few bits of grizzle end up in the links.