Pelosi's biggest healthcare task: holding her party together

The much-touted 'deal' with Blue Dogs Wednesday has now opened a rift with left-leaning Progressives.

Lauren Victoria Burke/AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, to discuss health care.

The massive healthcare overhaul has made managing the Democratic Party a much tougher assignment.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing a revolt on both ends of her caucus this week. First, the conservative Blue Dogs blocked healthcare legislation in a key committee. Then, when the Blue Dogs got what they wanted, the caucus’s far-left Progressive wing said the compromise had ruined the bill.

Speaker Pelosi was left in between, trying to stress the common ground that still exists among Democrats on “kitchen table” healthcare issues, such as consumer protections.

At the same time, in a nod to Progressives, she toned down talk Thursday of a “deal” with conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Instead, she called the compromises that brought Blue Dogs in the House Energy and Commerce’s on board “an agreement as to how the committee would proceed.”

Pelosi is dealing with the consequences of success. Democrats have expanded their majority by winning districts that traditionally tilt conservative. Now, Pelosi is charged with holding the caucus together.

“We have great diversity in our caucus, geographic and otherwise, and that will be reflected in the legislation,” she added Thursday.

For more than a week, seven members of the Blue Dog Coalition had stalled work on the last element of the House healthcare proposal. They had broken ranks with Energy Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D) of California and fellow Democrats over the cost and scope of the proposed reforms.

The agreement worked out between Democratic leaders and four Blue Dogs allowed the Energy and Commerce Committee to restart a markup of healthcare legislation Thursday, with a vote out of committee expected on Friday.

But reports of a “deal” with four of the panel’s Blue Dogs, announced yesterday, outraged members Progressive Caucus. If the Blue Dog compromises make it through to the final bill, as Blue Dog leaders are insisting, it will undermine attempts to provide a robust government-run option for healthcare, Progressives say.

“We told you months and months ago, [Democratic] leadership and [Obama] administration, we are on this ride with you because of a commitment to a strong and meaningful public option. If it’s not there, we’re not there,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D) of Arizona, co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus, at a briefing Thursday.

In talks with progressives, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders emphasize that work on the energy panel is only one element of a final proposal. Two other House committees and two Senate committees are also working on healthcare bills.

“What I tell my members is that, at the end of the day, we have to have universal, quality, affordable health care for all Americans, and we will do that. And we will do so working together,” Pelosi said.

Each member of the caucus will head home for the August recess with a card affirming how healthcare reform will help American families she said. These include: no discrimination for pre-existing conditions, no dropping of coverage for health reasons, no more job loss based on whether you have insurance, and no excessive out of pocket expenses, deductibles or co-pay.

But Progressives remain wary. “I want something good to happen and it makes me angry the direction we’re going,” says Rep. Jim McDermott (D) of Washington, a member of the Progressive Caucus. “If Barack Obama gives into this group, we’re going to have nothing.


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