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. Tucker Johns

    The Blue Dogs are right: If the dems vote to send this health care bill forward, it means most of the dems will be ousted next Nov by the American people.

    July 24, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  2. Fla.

    Angus McDugun,

    In case you were not aware, the bill actually contains 160 amendments from Republicans. President Obama publicly acknowledged the bipartisan efforts.

    July 24, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  3. Limit Congressmen, Representatives, Senators to two terms like the President!!!

    Go ahead destroy yourself from within just like the dumb Republcans did. You can't do any worse than the President you have. Us intelligent people out here are not following his lead anymore. We put up with DUYHA for eight years. I'll be darn if we'll follow suit with a muslim, socialist DUMBBO.

    July 24, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  4. swannee

    Remember the $50 million bucks Obama supporters raised in SEP 08 alone? A grand sum.

    Now here's the plan: taking names of anybody Democrat or Republican that stands in the way of progress.


    So you can be a neanderthal Republican or Blue Dog Democrat – WE WILL TAKE YOU OUT!

    We have money & money speaks – remember!

    July 24, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  5. Dan

    Health Insurance in America is full of people like Bernard Madoff

    Health Insurance in America is a Scam, Crookery and Corruption

    Health Insurance in America is worst than living in Third Wrold

    Health Insurance in America is a Vampire that Sucks Human Blood


    July 24, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  6. Rose

    Waxman comments just proves that this is a partisan vote, he is not interested in bi-partisanship. He had better listen to the people!!!

    July 24, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  7. Steve (the real one)

    The all encompassing party of tolerance is not so tolerant after all. Could it be that "my way or the highway" attitude? The GOP is no different. You win your seat in any house of the Congress and you are expected to leave your brains at the door and become a robotic follower! Keep fighting the good fight Blue Dogs! Your fair weathered fans will come back but only when you stop thinking for yourselves!

    July 24, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  8. Mark L.

    The GOP is always whining how the Democratic Party wants to spread Socialism in the form of Health Care Reform Legislation? Leave it up to the GOP and you'll have FACISM instead of SOCIALISM !!

    July 24, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  9. Kevin

    To all those arguing on this post for quick passage of this bill, don't cry when you are not given the medical care you would like to receive because this bill has serious problems. You will not have the voice for your own health care that you would like to have and you will not have the choices you wish you had. Personally, I don't want my hands tied when I'm sick and certainly don't want a politician or political "health czar" guiding my medical treatment in a time of need.

    July 24, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  10. Jay

    Blue Dogs are closer to JFK Dem's than the liberals in Congress. JFK would be called a right winger by the lefty of the Dem party. This bill is a turd on toast and anyone with any common sense would vote against it. Of course that is why the liberal Dems are all for it.

    July 24, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  11. Fla.


    Do you not see the irony in your posts? You projected "power" grab after you mentioned 2010 & 2012 elections for your OWN agenda. That's funny.

    July 24, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  12. Capt Smash, Salt Lake City, Utah

    Blue Dems and Rethuglucans want poor Americans without health-care to die. That way we can save money.

    July 24, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  13. Axl in Iowa

    It's all a friggin smoke screen .
    Nuthin' but shouts, slams, jibs, and jabs. They're all in on it. Cookedest bunch o SOB's in 233 years.
    Next thing we know, all of a sudden, POOF, instant health care, right outta nowhere, Uncle Sam's got his hand deeper in our wallets and now Obama gets to hire the (well you surely knew this was coming), The great and powerful health insurance czar.

    Ain't it great bein' rich...

    July 24, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  14. jm

    Healthy, lively debate never hurt this countr and it won't now. . Keep at it Congress, we need this health care reform. It is long overdue.

    July 24, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  15. Pepou

    Stop making excuses for Republicans and bending over backwards for them. They will always say no and have only one thing on their agenda: get at President Obama.
    I voted democrat and I wish they would support our President.

    July 24, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  16. Steve (the real one)

    @Fla. July 24th, 2009 4:39 pm ET

    ...In case you were not aware, the bill actually contains 160 amendments from Republicans. President Obama publicly acknowledged the bipartisan efforts
    You may want to share that tidbit with those libs who keep asking "where are the GOP ideas?" I don't think they know!

    July 24, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  17. Dan

    American Health Care Industry is a Mafia, Scam, Scheme for Plunder.

    American Health Care should be controlled by Government.

    American Health Care Crooks, Scoundrels and Thugs should be in Jail.

    American Health Care Should follow the pattern of UK Health Care.


    July 24, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  18. God bless America

    c'mon guys, you're making a democratic congress (something we've been waiting for for a very looong time) look like a mess.

    The whole point of having a majority is to get things done. This is shameful.

    July 24, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  19. Frank

    We cannot afford to give this country back to Republicans. It is up to the Democrats to come up with a responsible bill. Waxman and Obama should give up the heavy hand and work with the Blue Dogs to develop something that helps Americans without bankrupting our future. And just as important, without giving the GOP a wedge issue to run on in 2010. These anti-democratic tactics look like something out of the Karl Rove playbook, and that is what voters rejected in 2008. If Obama is not careful, they will reject his party in 2010.

    July 24, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  20. FRED

    not Blue / not Red
    Red / White / Blue (c)

    Get my new bumper sticker and stop the government rip off of the public. This ideological thinking is the basis of civil war and we the people need to take action.

    You don't see ONE DC politician stepping up to the plate and signing on for their health insurance, for the people. We must change our sickcare system to a wellnees, a prevention system.

    July 24, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  21. ck

    This is very telling. Democrats have control of the Congress and Senate... and all they still cant agree on anything!!

    Ahh, there's some true leadership!! LOL

    July 24, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  22. Don

    Majority don't approve the health bill, so why should moderate democrats go for it?!

    July 24, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  23. Kevin

    I think that each of the representatives should have to publicly state whether or not they have read the entire bill before they vote yes or no. We all assumed this when they acted irresponsibly and hastily spent spent $800+ billion of our money on the economic stimulus without even knowing what they had voted yes or no for. Where is the responsibility here. If this is such a good thing, then why has no one in Washington publicly laid out exactly what this bill will or will not cover. Where is the transparency that President Obama called for? Unless you have read this bill and know exactly what you are passionately supporting, you are acting just as irresponsible as our representatives.

    July 24, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  24. Unfazed

    Get it done and get it done right. The cost is going to be high regardless, so we may as well have an effective healthcare plan for all the people. It should not take any longer than the end of the year to pass this bill. There will always be critics of any plan that passes.

    The AMA endorses an effective plan. I see people come into the emergency room desperately ill because they cannot afford insurance and will not go to see a doctor. The cost of treating them at this stage of their illness is far greater than the cost of providing affordable insurance coverage options.

    Playing politics with healthcare is foolish. I find it hard to believe that the same folk that spent trillions of dollars on a war in Iraq find it hard to spend that same amount helping Americans in need of healthcare.

    God help us.

    July 24, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  25. Malia

    Just keep in mind that this guy Waxman and Polosi are from California - and if they have it their way, they will turn the entire nation to reflect Cali. The liberals have destroyed the Golden state!

    July 24, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
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