House takes big step toward healthcare reform vote

Democratic leaders cut a deal with their party's conservative 'Blue Dogs,' but Progressives on the left say 'no way.'

By , Staff writer

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    A copy of the America Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 sits on the desk of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., after the markup on the health care bill was postponed on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday.
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House Democrats today cut a deal with fiscal conservatives in their own ranks on healthcare reform – opening the door to a full House vote in September.

The agreement allows the Energy and Commerce Committee – the last of three House panels drafting healthcare legislation – to complete its work on the bill. The deal aims to cut costs of the $1 trillion program by 10 percent, rein in the scope of a public option, and exempt most small businesses from a requirement to provide health insurance for employees.

“Progress has been and will continue to be difficult, but getting it right is more important than getting it done right away or working on artificial timetables,” said the 52-member Blue Dog Coalition in a statement.

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In a move to trust but verify, the Blue Dogs are also calling for a full scoring by the Congressional Budget Office before the full House considers a bill to “ensure it appropriately reflects the principles we have articulated.”

That means that for a deal to stick, it must be included not just in the version of the bill that clears the Energy and Commerce Committee, but also the final bill that lawmakers will vote on in the fall.

At the urging of President Obama, House Democratic leaders had hoped to meld the work of three committees into a comprehensive bill to be voted out by the August recess. But the standoff with seven Blue Dogs in the Energy and Commerce Committee brought work on that panel to a standstill.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, majority leader Steny Hoyer, and White House officials have put in marathon sessions to broker a deal with the Blue Dogs and Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California, who chairs the energy and commerce panel. Four of the seven Blue Dogs on the panel backed the deal.

“Congress is closer than ever before in history to passing comprehensive health insurance reform,” said Speaker Pelosi and majority leader Hoyer in a joint statement today that acknowledged the “valued leadership” of the Blue Dog Coalition to “lower costs, make the legislation work better for their constituents, and assist small businesses.”

“These are goals shared by all Members of the Caucus,” they said.

But members of the progressive caucus on the left wing of the Democratic caucus came out of a meeting on the deal with House Democratic leaders threatening to vote against a final bill that includes elements of the Blue Dog deal.

“There’s no way we’re voting for a bill when it’s got this stuff in it,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D) of California, who chairs the 80-member House Progressive Caucus. “A healthcare plan that is great for the insurance companies is just a continuation of what we’ve got now.”

The deal includes language that the public plan is optional and clarifies that states have the option for state-based co-ops in addition to the public option. It exempts small businesses with a payroll of less than $500,000 from a requirement to provide health insurance for employees, and it increases the premium cap from 11 percent to 12 percent of income.

House Republican leader John Boehner said that the deal struck by four Blue Dog Democrats with House leaders will “increase healthcare costs for families, small businesses, and seniors, destroy jobs, and reduce access to quality healthcare.”

“It is a raw deal for the American people and sadly, it proves once again that the so-called Blue Dogs have no bite when they’re forced to choose between their constituents and the radical leadership of their party,” he said in a statement.

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