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Blue Dogs Nip at Pelosi’s Plan

Moderates Fear a Liberal Bill

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing fresh resistance from Caucus moderates who are unhappy with her plans to move a liberal health care bill through the chamber.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) push for liberal priorities in a health care overhaul met stiff resistance from her moderate wing on Wednesday, with key centrists predicting the measure would face a difficult route to passage if leaders don’t accommodate them.

But with no solid whip count in hand on the most divisive issues — the shape of a public insurance option and the inclusion of a millionaires’ tax to help fund reform — Democrats were struggling with a path forward even as leaders pursued an aggressive timetable for wrapping up work on the bill next week.

“Right now, I don’t believe leadership has the votes to pass [the bill] in its current form,” said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), the whip for the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition. She said members of her group expressed “dismay” earlier this week with the direction of the legislation, particularly a liberal push for a public insurance option pegged to Medicare reimbursement rates. Other moderates — including newer Members and those in the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition — were raising hackles about a surcharge on the wealthy.

The blowback came after Pelosi made clear in a leadership meeting last week that she preferred a liberal approach to both the public insurance option and the levy on the rich.

Democrats will try to find consensus on the public option when they gather this morning for a meeting devoted to the subject. But leaders are fast approaching a decision that will cost them a significant chunk of votes from one end of the Caucus’ ideological spectrum or the other. How many on either side remains unknown.

By Pelosi’s count, about 20 Blue Dogs would line up behind a bill with a strong public insurance option, according to lawmakers and aides who have heard her quote that number. But Herseth Sandlin’s count put that number lower — and she said she communicated the discrepancy to leadership staff Wednesday morning.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), another Blue Dog, gave Pelosi just a 50-50 chance of being able to pass a bill on the House floor that tied the public insurance option to Medicare rates.

“There are going to be a lot of Democrats, myself included, who can’t vote for it,” he said.

Although that move would save an estimated $65 billion to $70 billion, Pomeroy said those savings would be extracted from providers in states like his, which have low reimbursement rates under Medicare, and could result in fewer hospitals and other facilities.

But liberal leaders said they are happy to have Pelosi in their corner and aren’t talking up compromise on their core issue of a public insurance option tied to Medicare rates.

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