By Steven T. Dennis, Jackie Kucinich and Tory Newmyer
Roll Call Staff
July 29, 2009, 9:23 p.m.
The Energy and Commerce Committee health care markup is back on again after liberals on the panel reluctantly agreed Wednesday night to support a compromise brokered by Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) with four Blue Dog Democrats earlier in the day.
After a meeting of the committees Democrats, Waxman announced that the markup would take place Thursday. He had planned to mark up the bill Wednesday but postponed the markup after liberals rebelled against the deal, which reduces subsidies to low-income Americans, prevents a new public insurance plan from being based on Medicare rates, increases exemptions for small businesses and cuts the cost of the overall package by more than $100 billion.
Waxman said he would ask leadership and the Blue Dogs to try and restore cuts to subsidies for lower-income people a key concern of liberal Members but also said he stands by the agreement that they reached if the Blue Dogs do not agree to changes.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a Member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that he and others on the committee didnt like the Blue Dog deal but that they would support moving forward with it anyway.
Were ready to rock and roll, Butterfield said. We dont like it, but the political reality is we need to move something out of committee.
Early on in the three-hour meeting between Waxman and the liberals, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said the mood inside the room was tense. Theres angst, theres questions, theres some anger, he said.
He said that while he respects his Blue Dog colleagues, he was disappointed that the public plan was not robust.
You shouldnt let the tail wag the dog, he said.
As Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) left the room, he quipped that Members were having a great time but that the Blue Dogs had received better food.
By the end of the meeting, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said Congressional Progressive Caucus members had decided to go on with the markup.
We have a lot of work we still want to do, she said. Democrats have many amendments to offer. We are certain that Republicans will also have their opportunities.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said, We are working are getting us all together under the same tent and all going in the same direction.
Liberal leaders had earlier suggested they had the votes to block the markup until their concerns were addressed.
They arent marking it up right now, are they? said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, after a strategy meeting that also included members of the three ethnic minority caucuses.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the other co-chairman of the progressive bloc, complained that leaders cut liberals out of negotiations on the bill. The consequence is that theres some very committed people to the public option on that committee and they got marginalized and now youre going to have to deal with it, he said.
And while some liberals sought to lower the volume of the intraparty debate, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) made it clear that he would not vote for a bill that includes a provision resembling the Blue Dog compromise on the public plan. And he took a not-so-subtle swipe at the motivation of the moderates. Are they the Blue Cross Dogs or what? They need to start thinking about their people, who they represent, he said.
Butterfield said he liked the agreement to exempt businesses with less than $500,000 in payroll from new mandates but is concerned about provisions that would increase state costs for Medicaid and trim subsidies for people to buy insurance.
But he noted that this is just one stage of the legislative process, and there is a long way to go.