Blue Dogs: We Have Agreement With House Dems On Health Bill
Work on the House health care reform bill is slowing as Rep. Henry Waxman of California and fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats have come to an agreement on Medicare payments, The New York Times reports.
"The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, canceled sessions of the panel scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday so he could meet with Blue Dogs. They hold seven seats on the committee, a potentially decisive number, since the panel has 36 Democrats and 23 Republicans."
"The Blue Dogs said they had won agreement from Mr. Waxman to help rein in Medicare spending by giving the executive branch new power to set annual payment rates for doctors, hospitals and other health care providers, based on recommendations from an independent advisory council. Rates are now set by statutory formulas, and Congress is besieged by lobbyists pleading for bigger increases each year. It was unclear when the energy committee sessions would resume, but even the two-day delay was a setback for House Democratic leaders, who had hoped to pass the bill before their summer recess, scheduled to begin at the end of next week" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 7/21).
Politico: "OMB Director Peter Orszag called (the Medicare deal) 'probably the most important piece that can be added' to the health care bill in the House, and the deal between the Blue Dog Coalition and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was the first positive development Democratic Party leaders could claim since the American Medical Association endorsed their bill last week."
There's also some sign of reconciliation among other Democrats: "First-year Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), an early opponent of the surtax on the wealthy to help pay for the bill, commended Pelosi for suggesting that the trigger for a health care surtax be raised to $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for couples. 'It's a sign that leadership is listening to the concerns of new members,' Polis said" (O'Connor, 7/22).
But there's still a ways to go, Roll Call reports: "Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the chairman of the Blue Dog health task force, called the verbal agreement on an independent commission a 'significant breakthrough' but said the details still have to be worked out and many other issues remain unresolved." The Blue Dogs are scheduled to meet with Waxman again today (Dennis and Newmyer, 7/22).
CQ Politics: "The Blue Dogs aren't the only Democrats Waxman has to worry about. Bart Stupak , D-Mich., who is not a Blue Dog but often sides with them, said he 'respectfully declined' the White House [meeting with House Democrats] invitation. Stupak ticked off his own list of concerns with the bill: He wants health plans to be paid based on 'value or outcomes, not utilization'; he wants a provision added that would require hospitals and doctors to publicly disclose prices for their services; and he wants a vote on a 'conscience clause' that would allow health providers to decline to provide services they find objectionable, such as abortion" (Wayne and Epstein, 7/22).
The timeline is slipping, The Hill reports: "Publicly, House Democratic leaders said they remain on track to pass the legislation by July 31. But they disagreed on what to do if the legislation stalls. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that if consensus can't be reached, he expects to send legislators home on schedule. 'If we get consensus, we'll move on it. If we don't get consensus, I don't think staying in session is necessarily necessary,' said Hoyer. ... 'Based on what I've seen and where we are now I can't imagine that we'll be able to finish before August," said one Democrat on the Energy panel (Soraghan and Allen, 7/21).
USA Today interviewed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California on paying for the bill: "'If the Senate comes up with a potpourri of further cuts or other sources of revenue that don't hurt the middle class, then that's something we should all be looking at. But this (reform) is going to happen. And those who oppose it are mainly just opposed to health care,'" Pelosi said (Interview with editorial board, 7/21).
In the meantime, the GOP is readying a new assault on Democratic plans, Roll Call reports in a separate story: "Congressional Republicans will use the next two weeks to cast the Democratic health care plan as a harmful tax on an ailing economy - and then plan to go for the jugular over the August break. As they did on the economic stimulus and the budget, House and Senate Republicans are attacking the Democrats' approach to health care reform as a costly government takeover and will use polling data and a series of events to reinforce a message that they believe is striking a chord with the American public" (Kucinich, 7/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.