Nervous House Republicans may demand a pre-conference agreement that would establish the parameters of a final compromise. Such agreements are relatively common, but are also non-binding. The appointed conferees could simply ignore the pre-conference instruction, but could certainly face political consequences for doing so.
In order to streamline the path to conference, rather than passing one bill, the House could pass a rule before it votes on any piece of immigration-reform legislation stipulating that every bill that gets majority support (218 votes) will be merged together at the end of the process and reconfigured as a new piece of legislation, which would then become the official House position on immigration. That bill could then be sent to conference with the Gang of Eight bill, if House leaders allow it.
There are basically only two rules governing how a conference committee must operate: 1) There must be at least one meeting that is open to the public, and 2) A majority of conferees from each chamber must support the final conference report for it to be voted out and proceed to a vote in both House and Senate. As a result, a conference is likely to favor supporters of comprehensive immigration reform. Republican conferees would likely be somewhat divided, while the Democrats would be almost certain to vote anything out of conference. Should that happen, neither side would be compelled to vote on the conference report. Boehner could simply ignore it, although the political optics of doing so would be problematic (Ideally, Boehner would be able to kill the bill in conference by instructing a united body of Republican conferees to oppose the conference report.). But once it is taken up in each chamber, it is considered a privileged motion, and cannot be amended. The vote to end debate in the Senate can be filibustered, but that is unlikely to happen, given the margin by which the Gang of Eight bill passed.
Congressional rules dictate that any final conference report must be available for at least three legislative days before it can be voted on, unless Congress is in the final six days of a session. If the immigration debate drags on into December, as is likely, the three-day rule could potentially be waived and members forced to vote on a conference report that no one has read (no doubt prompting further comparisons to the circumstances surrounding the passage of Obamacare). Because the conference committee is only obligated to have one public meeting, the majority of the negotiations are likely to take place behind closed doors, and most Republicans would not be thrilled about having to vote on something they haven’t had a chance to read.
Even if the House declines to go to conference with the Senate, there would be nothing preventing the Gang of Eight from reaching out informally to their counterparts in the House to negotiate a compromise bill. Harry Reid could then attach the proposal as an amendment or substitute to an unrelated bill, pass it, and send it to the House, where Boehner would have to decide whether or not to vote on it. To avoid a potential blue-slip challenge, Reid could attach the new bill as an amendment to legislation that raises revenue and has already passed the House.
If a conference committee runs longer than ten legislative days, or 20 calendar days, House rules allow any lawmaker to force at least one vote per day on motions to instruct the conference. In almost every case, such motions would have no practical effect, since they are non-binding. But since a member could file a petition to discharge the conferees and end the conference, Democrats could potentially force a (meaningless) vote on the Gang of Eight bill simply to place Republicans in a difficult political position. That is one reason why many are so wary of going to conference in the first place.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.