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. indiana voter

    @GOP = 21st century dodo

    Anybody would be better than who we have now. A monkey could do better.

    July 24, 2009 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  2. Grrr-awful-o

    Guess the Blue Dogs are the smart ones of the bunch. And apparently they're tired of Nancy Pelosi ordering them around like the hired help.

    July 24, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  3. Roger from CA

    Why???? Why???? Why????

    Why are you Democrats so congenitally unable to get your act together?? It is 1994 all over again, and the most desperately important domestic issue of our time–real health care reform–is on the ropes.

    You morons got a HUGE mandate and landslide victory last November, and you are on the verge of BLOWING IT!!!!!! Yes, the economy is bad and costs are high, but HOW EXACTLY IS ALLOWING THE HEALTH CARE STATUS QUO GOING TO MAKE THAT BETTER??!???!?!?!?!!?

    Quit your infernal in-fighting and pass health care reform-NOW!!!!

    July 24, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  4. Gerry

    The DEM's seem to want to step on everyone that disagrees with them. I guess it is better to have a bad health care plan ineffect and spend the next 20 years to fix rather than getting it mostly right the first time.

    July 24, 2009 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  5. Scott L

    Love watching the liberals self-implode.

    Especially Specter...he is gonna get a butt-whooping in the election.

    Serves him right for stabbing the people that voted for him in the back.

    July 24, 2009 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  6. Grrr-awful-o

    If it wasn't so sad it would be hilarious. Put the Dims in charge and they promptly disintegrate. Nice demonstration! LOL!

    July 24, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  7. mike

    The true party of no.

    July 24, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  8. welches, oregon

    yea it must be nice that guys like this clown have all this time to debate OUR Health care, while they and their families enjoy a first rate health care plan, which costs them NOTHING – yet costs the American taxpayers plenty.

    When will ANY politician truly work FOR THE PEOPLE and not themselves.

    July 24, 2009 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  9. Susie

    I dug up the health flow chart on my congressman's website, and all I can say is "wow." Before Republicans start knocking it, where exactly is their action plan? Last time they came out with a 'plan' it was blank pages. There is too much bashing of little parts that surface, and not enough explanation from Democrats. And there is absolutely nothing from the other side than "the Republican plan will cost less." OK, show me the money. If you have a better plan, let's do it. But if the plan is, do nothing, that is unacceptable.

    July 24, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  10. Deanna McGowan

    Dems are not struggling! Dems are allowing their voters to call, support Single Payer public option to be included in heathcare reform!

    July 24, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  11. Ed

    I would suggest suspending health care benefits for the House and Senate until they can agree on a health care plan for 'We the People'.

    I would certainly accept the same plan they have! Lets do that and put an end to the quibbling.

    July 24, 2009 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  12. BJ in Nc

    Blue, Red, Yellow, or green. Neither of them have run up on a health problem that they did not have some type of insurance to cover it. Now they drag their feet on doing the right thing for those of us who are in need and by the way vote them into office. It is clear that they are not affected by this or else they would have done something years ago.

    July 24, 2009 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  13. Matt

    CNN doesn't report news anymore. They just report the tit-for-tat soundbites and insults that our politicians throw around. We may think politicians are stupid, but they're smart enough to know how to game today's media.

    July 24, 2009 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  14. Arden Muller

    The only agenda the GOP has and ever had was to destroy the President and the Democratic party. They don't care about anyone but themselves and their own agenda. They are all nuts, greedy and racist. Harry Reid and Pelosi should demand that congress stay in session until health care is done.

    July 24, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  15. steve

    No, we DON'T want universal healh care. I don't want the government running anything else. Learn to get in shape, take care of yourself and buy an insurance policy.

    July 24, 2009 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  16. aware

    Hang tough Blue Dogs! Obama's agenda spells disaster for the USA! 🙁

    July 24, 2009 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  17. Lily

    We never are going to move forward if we keep electing this kind of people....

    July 24, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  18. aware

    Obama magic has now fallen prey to arrogance and obfuscating delusional visions of invincibility! 🙂

    July 24, 2009 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  19. Stop the Obesity

    Stop Obesity and the "HealthCare Problem" is solved.

    July 24, 2009 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  20. aware

    A public option would become a single payer government plan that would seriously degrade health care, cost a mint and become the only plan available!

    I've been there, and, believe me America, you don't want this! 🙁

    July 24, 2009 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  21. Poker_Person

    How many people do you know that lost everything or a significant amount because they had no health insurance? I don't know any. If this is the main problem then let's fix that. Stop this crazy talk of rewriting the entire system. We elect and pay congress to write and pass laws that help the nation. Surly one of them can come up with a solution that does not force or allow the government to run the system.

    July 24, 2009 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  22. kas

    Finally something that makes sense. Keep on flooding the White House and Congress with your calls and emails to fight this insanity! Stop Obama before he totally ruins what is left of the country we love.Fight back, it makes a difference. Don't give up!!
    You knew we were doomed when the death of Michael Jackson took on more press than the debate on health care.
    Dems know that sticking with Obama on this is death to their political futures. The public, the more they know of the deatils WILLL NOT STAND for this crap!

    July 24, 2009 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  23. Ciera

    Sounds to me like Blue Dogs are really Republicans in sheep clothing. Why are these people so adamantly against legislation to provide health care to their constituents?

    Like someone voiced earlier, Democrats are known for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat...or was that "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?"

    July 24, 2009 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  24. John Black Hills/SD

    What will put a fire under the deadbeats who were elected is too pull our representatives medical coverage away from everyone of them, until every American has a health care plan equal with DC rep's.

    July 24, 2009 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  25. Ciera

    Guess it's going to take another sixty odd years to get this thing to first base and this time we can't blame the Republicans. However, by then most of the uninsured will be dead of some treatable illness.

    Just read today that SENATOR Bill Frist's family is owner of one of the largest health care giants – is this true?

    July 24, 2009 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
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