(photo: saturnine)

(photo: saturnine)

On July 20, President Obama held a conference call with progressive bloggers abut health care reform. The key moment I want to hone in on now with that conversation was this exchange:

The House bills and the Senate bills will not be identical. We know this. The politics are different, because the makeup of the Senate and the House are different and they operate on different rules. I am not interested in making the best the enemy of the good. There will be a conference committee where the House and Senate bills will be reconciled, and that will be a tough, lengthy and serious negotiation process.

I am less interested in making sure there’s a litmus test of perfection on every committee than I am in going ahead and getting a bill off the floor of the House and off the floor of the Senate. Eighty percent of those two bills will overlap. There’s going to be 20 percent that will be different in terms of how it will be funded, its approach to the public plan, its pay-or-play provisions. We shouldn’t automatically assume that if any of the bills coming out of the committees don’t meet our test, that there is a betrayal or failure. I think it’s an honest process of trying to reconcile a lot of different interests in a very big bill.

Conference is where these differences will get ironed out. And that’s where my bottom lines will remain: Does this bill cover all Americans? Does it drive down costs both in the public sector and the private sector over the long-term. Does it improve quality? Does it emphasize prevention and wellness? Does it have a serious package of insurance reforms so people aren’t losing health care over a preexisting condition? Does it have a serious public option in place? Those are the kind of benchmarks I’ll be using. But I’m not assuming either the House and Senate bills will match up perfectly with where I want to end up. But I am going to be insisting we get something done.

Clearly the Senate bill is falling down along some of those bottom lines. Taking the President at his word, that would mean that he would aim to fix those elements in conference and return it to the House and Senate with instructions to pass.

Except, Greg Sargent reports, it’s highly likely that there will be no conference committee, with the House expected to accept whatever the Senate passes. . . .

Beyond the behind-the-scenes skirmishing, though, lurks a larger question: Once the Senate reaches a compromise, can the House do anything to have an impact on it in conference negotiations over the final bill? Or will House Dems more or less have to go along with the Senate version?

Congressional aides say that the White House will set expectations along these lines. One aide points out that with the White House signaling a tight timeline, it’s very likely that House Dems will be expected by the White House to accede to the Senate version.

That has some GOP aides already chortling that the public option is headed for defeat. “If you’re looking for a Waterloo, the public option’s is fast approaching,” one emails. “Whatever comes out of the Senate will undoubtedly be in the final bill and it sounds like Lieberman and Snowe have their hands on the wheel.”

Some of this is trash-talk from GOP aides. But the timeline is certainly coming from the White House. They want a win and they want it within a very narrow time frame; in fact, they’re still talking about signing a bill before the end of the year. Other bills this year, most notably the credit card bill, didn’t have a conference committee because there was “not enough time” to get one done before the self-imposed deadline. In that case, too, the House just up and passed the Senate bill.

One part of the bill Obama did not publicly celebrate at the signing, a gun amendment. The measure by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., allows people to bring loaded guns into national parks and wildlife refuges […]

Democrats lawmakers and aides said they didn’t have enough time to send the bill to the House-Senate conference committee – where the gun provision could have been removed without a vote – and still get the bill to Obama by the Memorial Day weekend as he requested.

If you think that there’s definitely going to be a conference committee where the House can impose its will and move the bill in a different direction, just look at the recent history of the credit card bill. It lends a lot of credence to Sargent’s reporting.

And if you think that’s OK, that the Senate product will help a lot of people and we should affirmatively shut out one branch of Congress from the lawmaking process, think about this insurance industry insider’s reaction to the Senate bill, and particularly the move to kill the public option:

“We WIN,” the insider writes.

UPDATE: Ryan Grim has additional reporting, also pointing to a “ping-ponging” of the bill into the House from the Senate with jamming of progressives to support the bill.

David Dayen

David Dayen