Congressional Democrats are pursuing a somewhat atypical strategy for merging the Senate and House versions of the health care reform legislation. Instead of appointing a bicameral conference committee to draft merged legislation--the normal process, but one that threatens to be lengthy and arduous--Democrats will meet behind closed doors to agree on a combined bill. The two bills contain significant differences and House Democrats are already pushing for the merged bill to look as much like the House bill as possible. C-SPAN has ask to broadcast the private reconciliation proceedings live, a request that Republicans are supporting loudly as Democrats plan to exclude them from the discussions. Why are Democrats embracing this reconciliation strategy and what does it mean for Congress and health care?

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  • Cameras Stifle Honest Discussion  Speaking on the Colbert Report, the Washington Post's Ezra Klein laments, "If you got to see the reconciliation, what you would be seeing is a kabuki reconciliation." He explains, "If you put the cameras there, just like you saw in the final debate in the health care bill, people just made speeches, did all they -- there will be changes, but they won't dare have an honest discussion in front of the cameras. If we had a grown-up political culture maybe they would, but we don't so they won't."
  • What Would GOP Contribute?  Stephen Colbert said of the "smoke-filled, back-room deals" that "Republicans won't be able to contribute their valuable ideas like 'no' and 'nope' and, in an appeal to Latino voters, 'nada.'" He asked of Democrats, "What are they hiding? Are they having ice cream in there? Why won't they share their ice cream?"
  • GOP Lost Their Right To Participate  The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn argues, "Yes, Republicans are sure to complain that they're being excluded from deliberations. But given their repeated efforts to block not just reform but even mere votes on reform, it's not clear why Democrats are obligated to include them in discussions anymore." He writes, "One reason Democrats expect Republicans to keep trying procedural delays is that the Republicans have signaled their intent to do so."
  • Media Should Protest Private Meetings  The Washington Examiner calls for "a sit-down protest by journalists whose first job is to uphold the public's right to know what its government is doing. Invite readers to come join them in demanding open meetings. The last thing Reid and Pelosi want is the spectacle of the Capitol Hill Police dragging protesting journalists away from the closed doors. It's time to show some cojones, people."
  • Final Product: Lightly Altered Senate Bill  Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler predicts that this process is designed to produce a final bill that looks much like the Senate version, with some slight alteration from more-liberal House Democrats. "House leaders are working with their Senate counterparts and the White House to come up with a package of amendments--to change the Senate bill to greater reflect the House's plan. They can't rock the boat too much, of course. When the package goes back to the Senate it will be filibustered. Harry Reid will have to keep his 60-member caucus in line and that means not disrupting the fragile balance."
  • Allows More Liberal Bill  Reason's Peter Suderman thinks the strategy is about making reform legislation more liberal. "The implicit argument here is that not filming the negotiations will push the bill in a more progressive direction. I agree, but I think that's a bad thing. And I also think that as excuses go, shutting out C-SPAN and other media because doing so would limit opposition to the progressive agenda is pretty weak."