Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Pelosi Navigates Rough Reform Waters

Pelosi’s hand could be strengthened by the fact that Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), a leading Blue Dog and chief architect of the Energy and Commerce compromise, walked away from the deal when he returned from the August recess, promising to vote against any bill that included a public insurance option.

The question for Pelosi, the best vote-counter in the Caucus, is how many Blue Dogs will bolt, and whether it is worth both the liberal votes gained and the cost savings. “We don’t know how many people we’re going to lose,” one senior Democratic aide said. “But what we gain is a lot of money” — an important advantage, considering the House has to trim the cost of its measure by more than $100 billion to bring it in line with the preferred White House price tag of $900 billion.

Pelosi’s charge on the surtax is potentially as decisive — and divisive. Including the levy is sure to please liberals and her committee chairmen, including Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), who has defended his proposal for a tax on the rich even though President Barack Obama declined to mention it in his address to Congress. But a sizable number of Democrats, led by freshman Reps. Jared Polis (Colo.) and Gerry Connolly (Va.), have tried to kill or roll back that surcharge. Sophomore Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) added to the pushback on Tuesday, sending Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) a letter signed by 31 other Democrats urging that lawmakers instead fund reform from savings within the health care system.

Altmire, a prominent member of the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition, said he mulled the surtax issue over the August recess, but word from the leadership meeting last week that Pelosi intended to go forward with the approach was “the last straw.” He called the proposal “bad policy” and said he would vote against any package that includes it.

Of the Speaker’s approach, he said, “She’s setting the bar as high as possible so she can go into conference and negotiate downward from there.”

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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