Word came late yesterday that Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, had at last struck a deal with the conservative Blue Dog Democrats on his committee who had been gumming up the works of health care legislation. More specifically, Waxman struck a deal with four of the seven obstructionist Blue Dogs, giving him enough votes, presumably, to finally pass the bill in his committee.
Although the House health care bill had passed easily through two other committees, the Blue Dogs were balking over the cost of the bill, and the means to pay for it. Blue Dog spokesperson Mike Ross, D-Ark., even took objection to a surtax on the nation's wealthiest citizens for the purpose of funding health care for his less fortunate constituents.
Waxman's deal cleared the way for the committee to begin tweaking the provisions of the bill before taking its vote, a process known as mark-up. A mark-up session was called for 4:00 yesterday.
I dutifully arrived at the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing room at the appointed hour, and sat. And sat. And sat. No Waxman, no members of Congress. At 5:30, reporters were informed that the mark-up would "resume" this morning. And indeed it has; I write from the hearing room.
So what caused Waxman to call off yesterday's session? A potential rebellion in the ranks.
In the course of several days, progressive and liberal members went from feeling empowered and protected by Waxman, to feeling betrayed by him.
Last Friday, Waxman threatened, absent the votes of the Blue Dogs, to bypass his own committee in order to move the health care legislation forward. It was a shocking tactic, and one that might have proved extraordinarily effective. By Wednesday, however, had reportedly traded away a provision deemed critical by most Democrats: a robust public insurance plan, routinely called the "public option."
The Blue Dogs objected to the application of Medicare reimbursement rates to the public plan, which progressives say will significantly weaken the public option.
So yesterday's mark-up was quashed by the uproar from liberal and progressives who demanded that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was part of the Blue Dog negotiation, answer their questions in a closed-door session. Among the members miffed by the Waxman-Blue Dog deal are Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Lynn Woolsey, Calif.; Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, Mass.; Carolyn Kilpatrick, Mich.; Jerrold Nadler, N.Y., and Barbara Lee, Calif.
"Waxman has made a deal that is unacceptable," Nadler told Politico.
So far, the Democratic majority has hung together on the mark-up, unanimously voting down an amendment by Rep. Michael Burgess that would have altered the Medicare reimbursement formula. But a closed-door question-and-answer session between Waxman and Democratic members scheduled for later today is expected to be less placid.
Tagged as: blue dogs, henry waxman, blue dog democrats, mike ross
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's acting Washington bureau chief.
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