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House Democratic leaders hope to quickly defuse rising intraparty tensions and reach a health care deal this week, but they are acknowledging that they may be forced to join the Senate and punt on a floor vote until after the August recess.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Friday that Democratic leaders may push off the health care bill until September if they cant get it finished within the next two weeks. The House is set to go home for the month on July 31, but Democratic leaders have left open the option of staying in session to advance the health package.
Were going to keep working until the bill is done; that does not necessarily mean were going to work in session, Hoyer said.
Hoyer asserted that Democrats had made major progress on a draft agreement to address regional disparities in Medicare rates and expressed confidence that the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) would be able to work together and mark up the bill this week, despite a series of false starts.
Hoyer said the House could stay in session on Saturday and perhaps until Aug. 4 to give Members time to review a joint bill before voting on it on the floor. But the Majority Leader also said Democrats may wait until September to merge bills from the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor committees.
The House negotiations on the massive $1.6 trillion reform plan that is President Barack Obamas top priority had been chaotic all week, and broke down at one point with Waxman and Blue Dogs attacking each other. Waxman threatened to bypass the committee and take the bill directly to the House floor; Blue Dogs accused Waxman of backing out of deals the two sides had already struck.
But Waxman and Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), chairman of the Blue Dog health care task force, emerged together after an emergency, Members-only meeting of Energy and Commerce Democrats called by Waxman to try to rescue the bill Friday afternoon.
Weve had some rough edges as we try to deal with some of these issues, Waxman said. But I think that our colleagues have pulled us both back, and said, Lets all take a deep breath.
The two lawmakers announced as the day came to a close that everything is back on the table, and that staff would work through the weekend to try to forge agreement on the remaining points of contention. Waxman said he hoped to resume markup today or Tuesday at the latest.
Its not going to be interminable, Waxman said.
Ross said Blue Dogs have always wanted to be constructive. While emotions may run high at times, these negotiations ... have been civil. Weve respected one another, and at the end of the day, we want to find common ground.
Ross had earlier declared a breakdown in their talks with no apparent prospect for restarting them. He accused Waxman of reneging on two deals struck with Blue Dogs and the White House on an independent commission overseeing Medicare costs and on using Senate language requiring a public health insurance option to negotiate rates with providers rather than using rates based on Medicare.