Health reform slides as House Democrats try to heal rift

Cost concerns of the party's fiscal hawks will need more time to resolve, Pelosi acknowledged Monday.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, pictured at a news conference on healthcare reform legislation last week, said Monday that a bill would clear the House by the end of the year – not as soon as President Obama had wanted.

Conceding that she needs more time to pull together House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that the House will complete healthcare reform this year, but not on President Obama’s timetable.

“Members need the time they need to not only get the bill written, but to read it,” she said at a briefing with reporters. “They also need to see what the Senate is doing.”

House Democrats will gather for their 11th caucus meeting on healthcare Monday night, as leaders pursue closed, tough negotiations with the right wing of their caucus, which is balking at the cost and scope of the plan.

“When I take this bill to the floor, it will win,” she said today, repeating a claim she made last week.

Work to be done

That view is disputed by prominent Blue Dog Democrats, a group of conservative fiscal hawks in the House. The Blue Dogs account for 52 of the 256-member House Democratic caucus – enough to derail legislation if they vote with united Republicans.

The Blue Dogs are holding out for a plan that stems the soaring cost of healthcare to individuals and government and is more aggressive in finding savings in current public health programs, before expanding benefits.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee – the epicenter of the Blue Dog rebellion – canceled a mark-up of healthcare legislation for today to continue private talks with conservative Democrats. It’s the fifth postponement since last Monday.

On Friday, the Energy and Commerce panel released a report showing the impact of proposed healthcare legislation on each legislative district in the US.

For Rep. Mike Ross (D) of Arkansas, leader of the Blue Dog health task force, gains the report outlined for his district include 6,700 seniors who stand to get help paying drug costs, 12,500 small businesses who could qualify for tax credits of up to 50 percent of the cost of providing health insurance to their employees, and the elimination of $155 million of uncompensated care for hospitals and healthcare providers.

Why Blue Dogs are howling

Blue Dogs, citing estimates by the independent Congressional Budget Office, say proposed legislation has yet to reverse the cost curve for healthcare.

“The skyrocketing cost of healthcare is not only bankrupting American families and businesses, it is leading this country down a path to fiscal disaster,” said the seven members of the Blue Dog coalition in identical opening statements back on July 16, Day 1 of the House Energy and Commerce Committee mark-up of healthcare reform legislation.

The energy panel is the last of three House panels to draft legislation that House leadership will merge into a final bill. The House Ways and Means Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee have already reported out bills.

Democratic leaders again Monday sought to dispel rumors that they were prepared move a bill to the House floor this week without input from the Energy and Commerce panel.

“This effort has been long in the making and it is long overdue,” said House majority leader Steny Hoyer at a briefing. “We are going to work until this is done.... [Democrats] will adopt in this Congress, this year, a very good healthcare reform.”


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