From the estimable Jonathan Cohn, at The New Republic (emphasis mine):
EXCLUSIVE: Dems ‘Almost Certain’ to Bypass Conference
Jonathan Cohn January 3, 2010 | 10:50 pm
Now that both the House and Senate have passed health care reform bills, all Democrats have to do is work out a compromise between the two versions. And it appears they’re not about to let the Republicans gum up the works again.
According to a pair of senior Capitol Hill staffers, one from each chamber, House and Senate Democrats are “almost certain” to negotiate informally rather than convene a formal conference committee. Doing so would allow Democrats to avoid a series of procedural steps–not least among them, a series of special motions in the Senate, each requiring a vote with full debate–that Republicans could use to stall deliberations, just as they did in November and December.
“There will almost certainly be full negotiations but no formal conference,” the House staffer says. “There are too many procedural hurdles to go the formal conference route in the Senate.”
One reason Democrats expect Republicans to keep trying procedural delays is that the Republicans have signaled their intent to do so. On Christmas Eve, when the Senate passed its bill, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell memorably vowed  in a floor speech that “This fight isn’t over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law.”
“I think the Republicans have made our decision for us,” the Senate staffer says. “It’s time for a little ping-pong.”
“Ping pong” is a reference to one way the House and Senate could proceed. With ping-ponging, the chambers send legislation back and forth to one another until they finally have an agreed-upon version of the bill. But even ping-ponging can take different forms and some people use the term generically to refer to any informal negotiations.
Whatever form the final discussions take place, a decision to bypass conference would undoubtedly expedite the debate, clearing the way for final passage (if not signing) by the end of January. And, as long as both chambers still get their say, that’s a good thing.
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.
No, it’s not, and for people like me, it never has been. The R’s (and Rahm Emmanuel) have always seen this as a political fight, not a question of the best policy for Americans. They have intended, from the beginning, to hand Barack Obama a major defeat, and there was never, as far as I can discern, a point in time in which they negotiated in good faith. Besides, their buddies at Health, Inc., made out like bandits, and they beat down the popular-in-America-if-not-in-DC public option.
Now, the downside of this approach, as I see it – and please weigh in – is that, in the absence of a formal conference, leadership will be more likely to just sigh and rubber-stamp the Senate bill. I imagine Speaker Pelosi’s getting some heat to do just that. So perhaps CSPAN’s request to televise the proceedings might keep things honest – relatively speaking, of course.