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. Disgusted with Media

    Dude look at those nostrils!

    July 24, 2009 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  2. Zero.

    "The House of Hush": will fall eventually. And there will be a big "Price" to pay.....

    July 24, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  3. Fla.

    Mike MN,

    On the contrary, America is not center right (neither is my former GOP these days) or center left. America is actually centrist (period) overall.

    July 24, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  4. jae

    I don't think that the Blue Dog Democrats are against the health care bill. I believe that they are against Obama. Deep down they probably never wanted him to win. The majority of them are undercover Republicans, and they should be booted from the Democratic Party. Anyone who is a true democrat, or a true American for that matter, knows that the country is desperate for health care reform.

    Blue Dog Democrats go and join your colleagues in the Republican Party.

    July 24, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  5. Flash in the Pan

    "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."

    ...Oh, they'll get voted out alright...Just like the rest of the Democrats!

    July 24, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  6. Proud Member..Party of No

    Democrats should never, ever......ever be allowed to hold power in this country again. Wow, what a complete failure Obama is and what a mess the democrats have made of everything.

    July 24, 2009 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  7. GOP = 21st century dodo

    "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."

    and I thought the birthers were a little off

    July 24, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  8. cathy

    Blue Dogs speak for the people, not for the White House. Slow down and stop this very scary bill !! We do not want a public option, the first big step to National Healthcare disaster for all, especially the weakest, poorest, and eldest. We will all get sick /old one day, we want the very best care not something the President and Congress would never subjects their families to. Do not ruin our excellent medical care, there is no turning back once this bill is passed, mediocrity will be the new standard for American healthcare.

    July 24, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  9. Kevin B

    ll' try it once more.

    Americans should demand that all senate and house members drop thier gold plated "government" heealth plans until they meet the president's principles of expanded, portable coverage that drives down cost.

    Everyone knows that big insurance and pharma are behind the stalling on the hill, wiht the collusion of our 'elected" represenatives

    July 24, 2009 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  10. susie

    Pelosi and Reid want the American people to have the same health coverage as they do, thats why they are fighting so hard for us.

    July 24, 2009 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  11. S M R

    The GOP shows every day they don't care about the average American. Greed, money and power is all they lust for.

    July 24, 2009 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  12. Kevin B

    ll' try it once more.

    Americans should demand that all senate and house members drop thier gold plated "government" health plans until they meet the president's core principles of expanded, portable coverage that drives down cost for all americans

    Everyone knows that big insurance and pharma are behind the stalling on the hill, with the collusion of our "elected" represenatives.

    It is time for america to grow up

    July 24, 2009 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  13. stormerF

    Why do the Democrats want to rush this bill,It is 1/6th of our Economy,and Every Tax Payer should have a chance to read and comment on it. What are the Democrats hiding?

    July 24, 2009 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  14. Kevin B

    Americans should demand that all senate and house members drop thier gold plated "government" health plans until they meet the president's core principles of expanded, portable coverage that drives down cost for all americans

    Everyone knows that big insurance and pharma are behind the stalling on the hill, with the collusion of our "elected" represenatives.

    It is time for america to grow up

    July 24, 2009 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  15. NVa Native

    We are 50th in the world for quaility health care. Our health care is outrageously expensive, and of poor quaility. Some will say people from all over the world come here for health care, the truth is extremely rich people come here because they know they can buy anything they want.
    Most Americans get poor health care. The only people who like the system are the ones making money with it, or have the expensive health care insurance that pays for everything.
    Canada has quaility health care that is afforadble, and it is governement sponsored. If we want it we can do it, don't let the greedy Repubs and industry feed you their lies. Support universal health care for your families benefit.

    July 24, 2009 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  16. Fla.

    Mike Mundy,

    Is your post supposed to be satire? If so, that's hilarious. Facebook is not a credible source for polling, as if the media needs another poll of polls anyway. LOL

    July 24, 2009 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  17. Jane

    Waxman is an idiot.

    July 24, 2009 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  18. Stop the Robber Baron Insurance Companies and The Republicans they Bribe

    Call Your Member of Congress, Now.
    Demand that they work until they pass health care reform, with a government option.

    July 24, 2009 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  19. S Callahan

    Will we still have elections when this is done....the audacity of politics..... dialogue is necessary and to override that leads to a very thorny road down the line..

    July 24, 2009 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  20. Bob Pacific Grove, Ca

    What is a "Blue Dog Democrat"? Take Max Baucus, D-Mt.) for example. Max has taken more $$ from the health care industry for his political campaigns than any other Democrat.....Another words, he's been bought and paid for by the same industry that he is supposed to "reform"......Max is nothing more than a closet republican.......

    July 24, 2009 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  21. rufus

    Waxman ;goofy looking ,goofy acting pure socialist ! Bring America to its knees you goofball!

    July 24, 2009 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  22. Ruth, NC

    I just don't get it, why the rush?
    Why so political?
    I think if Pelosi were to be replaced by someone less arrogant the Congress could get things done.
    This bill as it stands now will be the biggest mess we ever had and it is a lot harder to get it fixed than take the time to do it right.

    July 24, 2009 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  23. Why

    If there is only 10% of the poulation uninsured, why the hell all the rush to tax the other 90% for their healthcare .Oh yea, I forgot the redistribution of wealth thing from robin hoodobama.

    July 24, 2009 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  24. Reformed Republican

    Are Waxman and Emanuel the only dems in DC with a set?

    July 24, 2009 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
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