Liberals Threaten to Derail Health Care Deal

Posted July 30, 2009 at 2:35pm

Updated: 4:23 p.m.

The outcome of a health care markup in the Energy and Commerce Committee was still in jeopardy Thursday afternoon as liberal Members continued to balk at a deal reached with Blue Dog Members that sliced more than $100 billion from the package.

Several liberal Members from the committee met to discuss the issue and and are trying to find alternative budget cuts that would satisfy Blue Dogs without shrinking subsidies that would help people buy insurance.

“There are some people, including myself, who have serious problems about taking money out of subsidies for low- and middle-income people,— Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said he is still undecided on the bill, despite pressure from party leaders to pass it now — and revisit concerns with a weakened public plan later — so Democrats don’t get clobbered politically over the August recess.

“One of the arguments we’re given to vote for the bill is that if we show the process is moving forward, it looks like we’re moving in the right direction. It looks good for the Democratic Party,— said Engel, who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee. “If we don’t, then we look like we’re in disarray and we’re not fulfilling our promises, and it’s easier for the vultures who want to kill any kind of health reform to swoop in and do it.—

Engel said the political pitch is “probably their strongest argument right now— because progressives are furious about “the evisceration of the public plan— in the Energy and Commerce bill.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said that there “probably— are not enough votes to pass the Blue Dog amendment to the bill without changes.

And Schakowsky said that even if they vote to pass the measure out of Energy and Commerce, she and other Members will be trying to strengthen it later on in the process.

“I underscore if’ right now because it’s not at all clear,— she said.

Meanwhile, even if the Blue Dog deal survives committee, it’s not at all clear that it will actually reach the House floor. Leaders were forced earlier this week to push off a House vote on a health care package before the August recess.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said she expects the Blue Dog deal to survive committee but that liberal lawmakers will fight to fully restore the public insurance option before it comes to the floor. Woolsey said progressives had 53 signatures on a letter vowing to oppose legislation that does not include a “robust— public option.

In the letter, the liberals called the Blue Dog compromise “fundamentally unacceptable— and said that, at a minimum, the reimbursement rates in the public option must be pegged to Medicare.

—We’re at a point where there’s no retreat and we must hold the line,— said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the liberal bloc.

In a reminder of how much ground the liberals have already ceded, their press conference was interrupted by noisy protesters demanding a single-payer system — a reform approach favored by many liberal Democrats but abandoned early in the debate amid strong resistance.

Pelosi noted during her weekly press conference that she prefers that the public insurance option be based on Medicare rates, which was contained in the bills that passed the Education and Labor and Ways and Means committees. The Blue Dog deal prohibits that, forcing rates to be negotiated instead.

And House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said it’s not clear what provisions will survive when the three House bills are merged.

“That will get melded with Ways and Means and Education and Labor, so I’m going to get worked up on what comes out of any one committee,— he said.

Clyburn said liberal Democrats should be happy with the bills that passed the other two committees.

“Two out of three ain’t bad,— he said.

Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Energy and Commerce is just one of four House panels with a hand in the process — and he is more worried about the final outcome.

“I am more concerned about the Rules Committee than I am with Energy and Commerce,— Rangel said.

Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.