The end of the conference committee?

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The Congressional conference committee, vaguely familiar to generations of Americans from their battered civics texts, is in danger of losing its prominent role in how a bill becomes law.

Once the penultimate stage in the life of any bill as a forum for House and Senate members to work out their differences, the conference committee has fallen on hard times, shoved aside in the last five years by partisanship and legislative expediency. As a result, there is often no public scrutiny of the last-minute compromises that produce a law.

The preferred alternative revolves around informal meetings mainly among senior Democratic lawmakers, who gather to cut a final deal and then bat the finished product back and forth between the House and Senate until it is approved. It is a makeshift process that has come to be known as Ping-Ponging.

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