First of all, this isn't all that unusual - the Republicans used this exact same procedure more times than I can count during the Bush administration - and no, they didn't allow Democrats to take part. (I guess it's just that Selective Media Amnesia that sets in whenever the Democrats are in control.)
But using the tactic known as "ping ponging" is going to minimize formal input from the liberal House side, and for that, Reid is going to have to cough up some kind of significant concession.
And just to make things interesting, C-SPAN is asking Congress to open the meetings to live coverage - something I'd love to see:
WASHINGTON - House and Senate Democrats intend to bypass traditional procedures when they negotiate a final compromise on health care legislation, officials said Monday, a move that will exclude Republican lawmakers and reduce their ability to delay or force politically troubling votes in both houses.
The unofficial timetable calls for final passage of the measure to remake the nation's health care system by the time President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address, probably in early February.
Democratic aides said the final compromise talks would essentially be a three-way negotiation involving top Democrats in the House and Senate and the White House, a structure that gives unusual latitude to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
These officials said there are no plans to appoint a formal House-Senate conference committee, the method Congress most often uses to reconcile differing bills. Under that customary format, a committee chairman is appointed to preside, and other senior lawmakers from both parties and houses participate in typically perfunctory public meetings while the meaningful negotiations occur behind closed doors.
In this case, the plan is to skip the formal meetings, reach an agreement, then have the two houses vote as quickly as possible. A 60-vote Senate majority would be required in advance of final passage.
"I look forward to working with members of the House, the Senate and President Obama to reconcile our bills and send the final legislation to the president's desk as soon as possible," Pelosi said late last year as the Senate approved its version of the legislation.