July 24th, 2009
08:00 PM ET
14 years ago

Talks break down, intra-party tension heats up for House Democrats

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/24/art.waxmanfile0724.gi.jpg caption="Waxman said Fridat he wasn’t going to let the Blue Dogs ‘empower Republicans.’"]WASHINGTON (CNN) - House Democrats split sharply over the issue of health care reform Friday as negotiations between a committee chairman and party conservatives broke down.

A key leader of the party's conservative faction later warned the party leadership not to ram the current version of the health care bill through by circumventing the traditional legislative process.

The escalating tension within the ranks of House Democrats raised new questions about the bill's prospects.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman told reporters on Capitol Hill that he is willing to keep talking with members of the Blue Dog coalition - an influential group of fiscal conservatives - but also made clear he intends to move forward with the legislation.

Waxman, a California Democrat, indicated that he would bypass a committee vote if necessary and bring the bill directly to the House floor for a final vote.

"We're not going to let (the Blue Dogs) empower the Republicans. I don't see any other alternative," he said.

Waxman's committee is one of three House committees that is supposed to clear the health care bill; the other two have already done so.

Legislation is typically approved by the relevant committees before being considered by the full House. On rare occasions, however, House leaders can remove a bill from a committee and bring it directly to a vote by the full House.

Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas, one of the leaders of the 52-member Blue Dog coalition, predicted that the bill would fail if Waxman circumvented the committee.

"I think it would be a huge mistake if they removed the bill ... and simply (took) it to the House floor," he said.

Ross is one of seven Blue Dog Democrats on Waxman's committee. Combined with the Republicans, they have the votes to prevent the committee's passage of the bill.

"We're not empowering Republicans," Ross insisted. "We're trying to save this bill and save our party. ... We're every much Democrats as anyone else that's on the committee."

Ross appeared to be backed by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who said that he was "looking forward" to the committee passing a bill.

"We expect the committee to be able to work its will," said Hoyer.

Several Blue Dog members have expressed concern that the current version of the bill does not do enough to rein in health care inflation. They've also expressed disagreement with the bill's government-funded public health insurance option and its $1 trillion price tag.

Ross and Waxman held a "very good meeting" on Friday, a Waxman aide said, and talks are continuing.

A Democratic leadership aide told CNN that Waxman and Ross apologized to each other after their meeting for the back and forth on Friday and said they will continue to talk on Monday. The aide asked not to be identified speaking for either member.

Bills considered so far by various House and Senate committees include Democratic proposals for a public option, mandates for people to be insured and for employers to provide coverage, and an end to lack of coverage due to a pre-existing condition.

Republicans oppose a government-funded option and any requirement for employers to provide coverage. They also call for limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, which Democrats don't favor, along with a number of provisions contained in the Democratic bills, including increased efficiency in Medicare and Medicaid and a focus on preventive health programs.

"Let's not rush it. Let's slow down. Let's get it right and ensure that the American people get the kind of health care that they need and deserve," Ross said Friday on CNN's "American Morning."

He later noted that only one out of 10 items on the Blue Dogs' list of concerns had been sufficiently addressed, despite meetings over the past few days with Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Ross reached an agreement with Obama and Waxman on Tuesday to create an independent council to set Medicare reimbursement rates as a way to help hold down costs.

"Unfortunately, we have failed to reach an (overall) agreement," Ross said.

The public bickering over the bill raised new questions over the status of the legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier in the week that she believes she already has the votes to pass the current version of the health care plan. Ross, however, insisted Friday that Pelosi was wrong.

"It's not just the seven of us on the Energy and Commerce Committee that are conservative Democrats that have concerns with the bill," he said.

"It's almost the entire Blue Dog coalition, and I can tell you if (the Democratic leadership tries) to bring it up for a vote on the House floor, it would be a mistake," said Ross.

On Thursday, the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate said his chamber won't vote on a health care reform bill until after the upcoming August recess.

The announcement by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went against President Barack Obama's stated timetable for both the House and Senate to turn out bills before the August break. After Reid's statement, Obama said he would accept a delay so long as work toward passing a bill continued.

On the House side, Pelosi reiterated Thursday that she wants the chamber to vote on a bill before the August break. On Friday, however, Hoyer hinted that Pelosi's timeline could slip.

"We're going to work until the bill is done," Hoyer said. But "that doesn't mean we're necessarily going to work in session."

Obama met with Reid and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus at the White House Friday to discuss the state of the controversial bill.

–CNN's Dana Bash, Evan Glass, Brianna Keilar, and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report

Updated at 8:00 p.m. EDT with additional information.

Filed under: Health care • Henry Waxman
soundoff (175 Responses)
  1. nice photo shot of Waxman's nostril

    where exactly was the camera when this was taken and how did Waxman not slug the camera man

    July 24, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  2. Right Leaning Independent

    Wow, and the Dems are running ads against the Republicans for preventing health care reform. This is too funny to make up!!!

    July 24, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  3. Th3rdpwr

    You tell 'em, Henry! More power to ya'!

    July 24, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  4. JGB

    Stick to your morals Blue Dogs – We support you and are glad you are doing the right thing.

    July 24, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  5. CNN=Moveon.org

    I thought the Democrats were the ones that were supposed to be tolerant of other views?

    A house divided cannot stand. The house of Obama is crumbling fast!

    July 24, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  6. C. Bass

    Vote on it. If the democrats don't get health care passed with all the power they have been given to do so, and the mandate of the American people to do so, then it will show that they are incompetant and the republicans will gain seats in 2010. It's as simple as that. I have to give it to the republicans, when it comes to getting things done they get them done for good or for bad.

    July 24, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  7. Emma


    I vote every election and I pay for your medical insurnce. Get off the stick and do something to protect the American people..............VOTE NOW for health care or you will feel my feet as you go out the door.

    NO GUTS! If you are Republican then change your status, stop pretending to be a Democrat.

    July 24, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  8. proud conservative

    Maybe we could get these blue dogs to switch parties!!!!!!!

    July 24, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  9. MCD, SF, CA

    Instead of losing this opportunity... couldn't they pass a bill that declares that there will be some form of government or single payer health insurance within, say, the next year. Then take more time to get down to the nitty-gritty later? WE MUST CHANGE HEALTH CARE IN THIS COUNTRY! It would be terrible if this ends up going the way the Clinton Health Care changes went.

    July 24, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  10. The Party of HELL NO!

    Medicare – bankrupt
    Medicaid – bankrupt
    Social Security – robbed, raped, beaten, bankrupt and left for dead
    AMTRAK – failed socialism on wheels
    USPS – the bumbling Cliff Claven agency that spawned the term "going postal"
    DMV – need I say more?

    Now, all that said... THIS is the same bunch that now wants to control your healthcare. The government's motto is "If it ain't broke, 'fix it' til it is."

    Again, proud to be a member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and now the Party of HELL NO.

    One and done Barry
    Four and the door
    Obama: proof that God answers prayers (well, at least Jimmy Carter's prayers)

    July 24, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  11. Angus McDugan

    When Obama said during the campaign that he would "reach accross the ile" I didn't think it would only be to smack Repubs over the head.

    July 24, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  12. Fred in NJ

    There is some scary stuff in that bill.... I'm glad someone, anyone, is fighting to stop it before it's too late.

    July 24, 2009 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  13. JK Ashburn, VA

    I just love you political morons who refer to these blue-dogs as Republicans in sheeps clothing and hope they will not get re-elected. They are what they are because they are Democrats who happen, in most cases, to represent otherwise Republican districts. So, if they don't vote in some moderate or even conservative way, you'll get your wish — they won't get re-elected. And then a Republican will win the seat.

    And if you do the math, you'll discover that if the blue dogs are all replaced by Republicans, the Republicans will take over the House of Twits, er, I mean Representatives because there are simply (thankfully) not that many liberals willing to vote like liberals.

    July 24, 2009 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  14. JDM

    It is time to see who is a Democrat. Take the vote to the floor and let the Blue dogs reject it. Then the Reps will agree with them and the whole country will see them for what they are. Reps-Dems who will not change parties! Or they will be seen as the Democrat that blown it again!.

    July 24, 2009 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  15. Proud Member..Party of No

    Finally some democrats are realizing what a complete dunderhead Obama is.

    July 24, 2009 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  16. Albo58

    After the fiasco of the "Cap & Tax" bill, it looks like the House Blue Dogs are finally on to Waxman, Pelosi, Hoyer, and that weasel, Rahm Emanual! Sure, it's taken a long time and many letters/emails/calls from their constituents, but these moderate are standing up for what is right!

    July 24, 2009 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  17. Kevin B

    Demand that all members of the legislative branch forgo thier coverage,(including the families of members) until they can put the average americans interest first.

    Health care in america is a crime and a rip off and everyone knows it.

    July 24, 2009 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  18. johnnie

    Thats what America is all(ABOUT) freedom of (SPEECH) they always fight and clown with each other,but the DEMOCRATS controll the house and the SENATE....and THE WHITE HOUSE....

    July 24, 2009 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  19. Terry from West Texas

    The modern Democratic Party has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

    The Republicans are be the gang that can't shoot straight; they do have a real competency problem. The leave the nation in worse shape every time they are elected to power by America's easily manipulated voters.

    Poor Harry Truman is spinning in his grave. I am ashamed of what his party has become. The Democrats are in power and they can't think of anything to do.

    At least the Republicans had an agenda. They stole us blind and bankrupted the nation. They are at least capable of action.

    July 24, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  20. Pastilles

    Blue Dawg Democrats are not Democrats, they are Republicans at heart. They work for and are controlled by the Health Care conglamarents and will do whatever to derail any bill that has "health care" in it. I don't trust them.

    July 24, 2009 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  21. D

    One big PONZI scheme, another shell game run on the people of this country, you should be ashamed of yourselves, your beginning to look just as slimly and ridiculous as your Republican counterparts, and I'm sure that appeals to them just fine. But, it doesn't appeal to my family or millions of other familes in this country who want healthcare reform. Let this opprotunity slip away if you think you can afford too, this is one time the voters won't forgive or forget.

    July 24, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  22. Charlie in Maine

    We've waited so long for this to finally happen that a little more tome to get it right doesn't seem too much to ask. But honestly if given all the tools they have this time the Democrats still can't find the backbone to get this passed then this life-long Democrat will start looking to start a new party. And by that I mean one that will actually do what the Democratic platform says.

    July 24, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  23. Fla.

    Divisive sensationalism. Does corporate media not want healthcare reform passed for the American people? Just curious.

    Rep. Ross clearly said he was trying to save this important legislation, as we elected Democrats and some Republicans to do.

    Let them work together through the remaining details and please stop stirring the pot for ratings, media.

    July 24, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  24. yuri

    We would love to hear what the Slum Dog Dems have to say to salvage the bill, before it hits the floor.

    July 24, 2009 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  25. Skip, a black man

    I just bought a boat to go back home.....any of my brothers want to go?

    July 24, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
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