Blue Dog Coalition Criticizes House Health Care Leaders for Developing Legislation in Secret
Members of the fiscally conservative, Democratic Blue Dog Coalition on Monday sent a letter to the chairs of three House committees who have been tasked with drafting health care legislation, saying they are "increasingly troubled" by the exclusivity of the process, the New York Times reports. The letter -- sent to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), House Education and Labor Committee Chair George Miller (D-Calif.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) -- said the Blue Dogs believe that "our contributions, to date, have been limited" on the legislation and praised the Senate for taking a more "collaborative approach" than the House. The letter stated that the Blue Dogs support President Obama's goals of expanding health coverage to all U.S. residents, but noted some concern about the cost of such an overhaul. They said that the role of a public insurance option, expected to be included in the House bill, must be explained in detail.
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), chair of the Blue Dog health care task force, said, "We don't need a select group of members of Congress or staff members writing this legislation. We don't want a briefing on the bill after it's written. We want to help write it." Ross and eight others who signed the letter are members of the three panels writing the legislation. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a member of the coalition who did not sign the letter, said, "Especially in the House there's too much of this attitude that if it's bipartisan, that just means you didn't negotiate hard enough. I hear that a lot from folks," adding, "They are almost looking for ways to eliminate Republican support."
Karen Lightfoot, a spokesperson for Waxman, said he had met with members of the coalition. When asked why the Blue Dogs felt that they were left out of the process, Lightfoot said, "That's more of a question for the Blue Dogs than for us" (Pear, New York Times, 5/12).
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chair of the Republican Health Care Solutions Group, said his 21-member panel will issue health care reform proposals before Congress' Memorial Day recess. He said the group will hold small group briefings with House Republicans before the plan is presented to the entire Republican National Conference, which is leading the effort to put forward Republican proposals for overhauling the health care system. Blunt said, "We hope to have a set of solutions outlined that we think Republicans can rally around for our members to take home with them when they leave here at the end of the month." The panel was created in March by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who asked Blunt to lead the effort (Hooper, The Hill, 5/11).
Politico on Tuesday reported on three television spots discussing health reform that aired last week. A spot from MoveOn.org Civic Action says, "A public health care plan means affordable health care for everyone." Two ads from Conservatives for Patients' Rights Action Fund tell stories from Britain and Canada where cost reduction efforts by the nation's health systems caused people to be denied care. In its ad, Health Care for America Now aims to diminish the credibility of CPR founder Rick Scott by telling viewers that the company he ran was investigated for health care fraud (Budoff Brown, Politico, 5/12).
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in a Friday letter to HCAN said, "I look forward to discussing and considering" the possibility of creating a public insurance plan. Specter, who recently switched parties, had expressed opposition to the plan while a Republican. The letter added, "There may well be other proposals on this issue which should be considered in drafting legislation and debating the bill on the Senate floor" (Brady, Roll Call, 5/11). He also noted that a plan put forward by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), which seeks to ensure competitiveness between public and private insurance, could be a starting point for developing legislation (Hefling, AP/Kansas City Star, 5/11).
Specter said he would not support any bill allowing the government to purchase prescription drugs at a discounted price, "another sticking point for Republicans and moderate Democrats," Roll Call reports. He cited a 2007 letter from Peter Orszag, the White House Office of Management and Budget director who at the time was director of the Congressional Budget Office, stating that such discounts would "have a negligible effect on saving money." Specter added that "there may be other proposals on this issue" (Roll Call, 5/11).