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. dave

    You wouldn't have never got this if this was the GOP. Now I believe we want get another drug bill but one that might be the answer to some of our health care problems.

    July 24, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  2. Fla.

    Steve (the real one),

    I believe many of those Americans may already know about the amendments, but you just helped me share it, thanks.

    Does that mean this healthcare reform will garnish more support from those Republicans who had their amendments included? We'll see.

    July 24, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  3. brian

    If the Blue Dogs want to control costs, allow the public option. Everyone is crying about controlling costs but are disavowing the one thing that would control the out of control private insurers – the pubic option. The real goal of the Blue Dogs and the Republicans is to do nothing.

    July 24, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  4. Sheri

    Don – Majority don't approve the health bill, so why should moderate democrats go for it?!------- Majority of what? If your speaking about Americans, then your incorrect.

    July 24, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  5. Don't blame me - I voted for McCain

    More than half of us object to this plan! The AMA endorsement is a sham. Few practicing physicians belong to the AMA so who does the AMA represent. The Blue Dogs are correct to hold their ground. Finally, someone is willing to stand up to this farce other than Republicans! This one party rule will be as short lived as he Republican Revolution was under Newt Gingrich.

    July 24, 2009 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  6. MJ

    To: Pro Obama's Health Reform

    Do you have any clue what is in this bill? Would you sign a contract without reading it? Pay attention. This is not a good thing for America. The difference between the "blue & red pill" – I do NOT have RX Insurance. Have arthritis and take a non-generic pill because the alternatives cause too many side affects. I pay for my medication. So with this plan I will be forced to use the cheaper meds and suffer. Seniors will also be MANDATED to report their "Death Wishes" to a physician every 5 years. Why not just tag us when we get too old and "put us out of our misery".

    July 24, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  7. Alice Newman

    ... and what are the Blue Dog's plans for fixing health care? I haven't heard any alternative proposals – just saying "no" – with nothing else in mind – sounds very republican to me.

    July 24, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  8. shenee78

    Blue dogs are not democrates they are undercover republican and
    will vote against anything the republican tells them too. Like republicans blue dogs dont care what the people who voted for them
    want they only care about what the lobbyist want and the money they are given for their campaign war chest. People are dying because they
    cant get insurance for simple things and these people are voting with
    the party of bush and cheney and worrying about what their pals the
    republican or maybe they are just trying to bring President Obama down. Either way I hope when election day come the people who voted
    them in will remember and vote them out.

    July 24, 2009 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  9. from the middle

    Call me crazy; but maybe we should see how deep in the pocket the congress members are to the insurance companies. Get rid of the lobbies & you'll get rid of this tom foolery.

    July 24, 2009 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  10. Pragmatic

    I prefer the Democrats debating and discussing style of Democracy to the republican form where every republican must vote as told – no independent thinking allowed – just blindly do as you are told – leadership like Tom "the hammer" Delay had. I want to vote for thinking congress critters – even if they don't think alike – than a republican robot.

    July 24, 2009 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  11. Kaye -Jacksonville FL

    The Blue Dogs are destroying the Democratic agenda – for purely political and selfish purposes. I hope everyone of them gets voted out in their next election and I hope Waxman/Pelosi smack 'em down hard.

    July 24, 2009 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  12. Limit Congressmen, Representatives, Senators to two terms like the President!!!

    SWANNEE – I take it you are making threats of taking someone out. Is this going to be by driveby once you're drugged up enought to get brave? Or is it that now that you guys think you can raise enough money one time to get a man in the whitte house you can do anything? If I was you I'd slink off somewhere where my catfish mouth would not overload my skinny behind.

    July 24, 2009 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  13. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    Obama brings us together yet again. Heck he can't even keep his party together.

    July 24, 2009 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  14. GOP = 21st century dodo

    @Don't blame me – I voted for McCain

    Really? Seriously? Do you honestly believe John "Phil Gramm is my pal" McCain would know what to do with the economy? Do you really think John "Bomb Iran" McCain should be handling international relations? Do you really believe deep down inside that John "Sarah Palin" McCain had the best interests of the country in mind rather than his own lust for power?


    July 24, 2009 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  15. democrat no mas

    If the democratic party behaved like the blue dogs, I would rejoin the party. This is how the the democrats behaved when they were considered "the party of the people". Now they don't really make sense on a lot of issues, but they react irresponsibly whenever a block of votes makes noise. Consider the effect of your actions before you leap off the cliff.

    July 24, 2009 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  16. Mike in MN

    The party is over for the Obama/Pelosi liberal agenda.
    The majority of Americans are center right.
    One majority of Congress is Democrat.
    But another majority of Congress is center right, the combination of Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans. This majority is in line with the majority of Americans.
    Blue Dog Dems already got beat severly by their voters back home for voting for the liberal cap and trade bill.
    If Blue Dog Dems continue to vote for liberal bills they will be voted out back home in 2010 and replaced by Republicans. They know this.
    If the Blue Dogs get voted out in 2010, Republicans take back the House and Senate. Is that the way Obama and Pelosi want it?
    Clinton did not figure it out until it was too late and Republicans took back congress in his first mid term election. He moved to the right after that.
    What will Obama do? Stay with his liberal agenda? If he does Blue Dogs either vote with him and risk certain defeat in 2010 or stand Blue Dogs stand their ground and Obama gets nothing done.
    Or does Obama move to the right and work with Blue Dogs and moderate Republicans?
    My bet is Obama is a hard core liberal and will go down with his ship.

    July 24, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  17. cedgar

    I have started reading the house bill and this is not what I voted for.
    Please take the time and get this right
    there a 300 million people it will effect
    this is just as big as social sec. and that was not pasted in weeks
    everyone just relax health care is big and complex we want it right.
    I want to read any thing they think of pasting before it is voted on.
    I do not want another social sec. mess ie health care left for my
    children to deal with.
    If people had just thought back in the 30's what will this do to our
    children!!! We have already seen what good intention can do.

    July 24, 2009 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  18. Mike Mundy, Houston, TX

    Ha Haa...Facebook has Sarah Palin leading a poll for the 2012 presidential race among Romney, Clinton, Obama, Jindal, Gingrich. Sorry Libs! Can't lie on Facebook!

    July 24, 2009 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  19. annie s

    Kudos to Congressman Waxman, a compassionate legislator who understand that the needs of the American people need to come before politics. And to the Blue Dog Dems, Republicans and other selfish people who don't understand what it is we're fighting for, I pray for you that you never lose your coverage or your life savings due to an unplanned catastrophic illness. I would have had no problem at all with the Democrats working longer to "get it right" had they stood united with the President, but their back stabbing and childishness is sickening.

    July 24, 2009 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  20. Zero.

    But Obama did not appolagise. Come and sit on my own Ground. Where I dictate what is and isnt said. The Whitehouse is not your domain. It is on lease..

    July 24, 2009 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  21. Al

    Why don't they just take the billions that they want to invest in this health care bill and put it to use. Seems to me is that all they have to do is put that money in the bank, charge citizens $20 a month for Government health care, and use that banked money until payments catch up to it. Government health care problem solved.

    July 24, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  22. John

    45 million uninsured, 11 million of those are illegals, so 34 million Americans uninsured or ABOUT 10% of the population. How many of these could be covered if the tort reform provided releaf from 200K per year malpractice fees. How many Drs and nurses will it take to cover these people? Don't just say we want it so we will take whatever is given. When 90% are covered, how many of thos 90% don't like their coverage? How many companies will say it is cheaper to pay 8% of your pay to the government and have you covered by a minimalist government program than the 12+% they currently pay for your PPO plan. My company will put us on the government plan the first chance they can. So be careful what you ask for.

    Also: Any plan that they force on us must be the plan that they the congress and senate will have to use. If that is the case, they will never pass it!!!

    July 24, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  23. pv

    How can the article not address one point of substance on this imoprtant bill? C'mon CNN, do some reporting!

    July 24, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  24. Zero.

    The Grown Up thing would have been to appologise.. CNN no different it seems So they bring some sex-starved woman in to praise him Or another Black dreamer of Obama' Heroship.

    July 24, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  25. Kelby In Houston, TX

    Bring out the single payer option!
    We need to take the industry out of healthcare industry!
    It's time that our congressional leaders were told that if they don't come through on this one, they won't come back from the next election cycle.
    America wants universal healthcare!

    July 24, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
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