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. Yankeedoodle

    Thank God for the Blue Dogs, maybe there is still hope left for this country.

    July 24, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  2. Four and The Door

    Our system of government works when elected officials actually vote with their own minds and consideration of constituent feedback. With the snowjob we are getting fed about the number of uninsured, what will be covered, how much it will cost and who's going to pay for it, Americans are not buying into this anymore.

    July 24, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  3. Pat

    The Democrats are tearing themselves apart. It is high time people realize how BAD this bill is. I admire these Democrats for standing up to the radical liberals in their party!

    July 24, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  4. Retired US Army

    Health care reform if we attack it head on with the intention of creating a system that works should be a no brainer. However, if we are going to persist with special interests and lobbist call the shots and using scare tactics to dictate what should result in reduced costs we will never see health care reform that actually lowers cost. How do you lower cost, just like the health care industry does, you negoiate prices across the board as to what insurance is going to pay. But even more critical you spread the risk over the largest population base you can, this lowers the risk and lowers the per capita cost. Its called 100% coverage, it will give you the lowest cost per capita and that is after all the goal is it not, to have health care reform with the lowest per capita cost possible.

    July 24, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  5. InlandEmperor

    Mr President, keep on marching. It's OK for your fellow members to debate ploicy. Unlike the previous regime it appears that there indeed is actual debate occurring. The end result will likely be a product that will yield great benefit to the average American...not just the special interest groups.... that lined the neo-con pockets.... that prevailed in the past.

    July 24, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  6. gore lost in 2000

    C. Bass, you are a complete moron, and your brand of thinking is why people have no trust in Washington.

    July 24, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  7. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Thank you, Blue Dogs! Stop Waxman and Pelosi before they bankrupt this great nation.

    July 24, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  8. Mississippi Mike

    What ever happend to being the most open congress ever and reaching across the aisle? I guess hope and change meant changing to Chicago style politics instead of Beltway politics. If anything, it's made the process worse.

    July 24, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  9. Dan

    Health Care Executives in America are EXTORTIONISTS.

    Health Care Executives in America live in LUXURY when others suffer.

    Health Care Executives in America are LOOTERS.

    Health Care Executives in America don't allow Doctors to use their INDEPENDENT JUDGMENT.

    Health Care Executives in America are LOBBYISTS who control the Government.

    Health Care Executives in America should be JAILED.

    WE NEED FREEDOM from the Health Care Executives of America.

    LIBERATE us from the Health Care Executives of America.


    July 24, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  10. Predicta

    It's looking like Jimmy Carter all over again. Anyone with half a brain will run against and beat Obama in 2012.

    July 24, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  11. Kelby In Houston, TX

    @ JK Ashburn, VA

    Your comment saddens me because it's true.
    CNN moderators sadden me because they removed my comment...why? What really is terrible about the removal of my comment is that I will never know why they did it

    July 24, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  12. Brandy

    OMG – this guy Waxman is FUGLY.

    July 24, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  13. phoenix86

    Here we go. You're about to see what the REAL liberal agenda is for America.

    Don't forget in 2010 and 2012. Send them all to unemployment.

    July 24, 2009 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  14. phoenix86

    The liberal agenda is NOT health care reform, they could care less. Their agenda is power.

    July 24, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  15. Denise

    I do not blame Waxman. Ross and Baucus are both on video saying they want to kill public option. They are also giving the GOP more info about their work o the bill than they are the members of their own caucus.
    Do whatever it is you have to do. They are only trying to assist the GOP. There are citizens of this country who are in dire straits when it comes to insurance.

    July 24, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  16. Pete East

    Please, Rep. Waxman, do continue to bully the members of your own party. Don't worry, I can assure that none of them will be alienated by your tactics.

    July 24, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  17. ronvan

    This is just another political mess. It doesn't matter if our President and others have a good program, its the $$$ that the special interest groups can put into the hands of politicans in order for them to continue to make money! When I was working I had to plan vacations around "prime time" money days. Guess I was stupid and should have been a politican so I could take a 30 day vacation even though the entire country is waiting for a plan!

    July 24, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  18. Stu

    Just say "NO" to socialized healthcare. Regulation of the insurance industry is fine. However, the government had a solid track record of making messes out of "programs", to wit, social security, medicaire, taxes, bailouts.

    July 24, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  19. Donna from Colorado Springs

    Those blue dog Democrats are trying to give the Republicans power over the negotiations and they know they are. Who are they trying to fool? The real Dems don't need our intentions questioned at every turn. What I don't understand is the blatent disloyalty they are showing to our party. Why are they buying into whatever the Republicans are selling? Did they forget what the Republicans put the country through in the past? If they want to go over to the "dark side" then good riddance!

    July 24, 2009 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  20. Mark L.

    Meanwhile, as the Democrats cannot reach some sort of consensus on the Health Care Reform legislation, another 12,000+ individuals have lost their Health Care today due to corrupt Corporate politics (i.e. – downsizing, restructuring, etc.)… Sometimes I truly wonder to myself, how did FDR and LBJ manage to get Congress to pass Social Security and Medicare reform legislation so easily?? Oh I know, back in those days the USA was made up of a much GREATER and SMARTER US House of Representatives and Senate as compared to the IDIOTS we've got running the show today !!

    Why doesn't somebody simply take the 'Blue Dog' Democrats out for a walk on their leash and let them do their thing near the closest fire hydrant...LOL...

    July 24, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  21. Peter

    With D. Senators like Baucus who the lobbyist have showered with donations amounting $ 1. 5 Million and extravagant fundraising events such as $ 2,500- donation flyfishing event in BigSky, Mont. Such people are not own your side they are there for their special interests. WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT? find the article " Baucus reels in healthcare donations" 07/21/2009 United Press International.
    Time to call on these double sword politicians!!

    July 24, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  22. Beth

    There is some frightening stuff in this bill..... please don't support it on blind faith, fellow Dems. Read it first. If you like it, fine. If you don't, that's fine, too. But I'm a Democrat, and I am with the Blue Dogs and Republicans on this.

    July 24, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  23. Dawn Ada, Ohio

    Get it together Dems. We voted you in to get this health care mess fixed and if you don't we can vote you out just as easily as we voted you in.

    July 24, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  24. Larry

    @ Bedtime for Obonzo

    This country is already bankrupt. We're $11 trillion in debt. You don't really believe we're ever going to be able to pay that back, you do?

    July 24, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  25. Maria - Proud Democrat

    Thank You Blue Dogs for stopping this freight train headed towards disaster.

    We want health care but we want it to be well thought, doable and realistic.

    Signing on to a terrible health care bill just for the sake of being able to say you passed a bill is ridiculous.

    This Democrat supports you whole heartedly as do millions of Americans.

    We are tired of Political game man ship and Political threats.....by people like Pelosi.

    July 24, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
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