- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

House Democratic leaders Wednesday cut a deal with rebellious moderates to advance a stalled health care reform bill, only to meet fresh roadblocks from more liberal members in the bid to pass President Obama’s top legislative priority.

The deal, designed to pacify fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, promised Mr. Obama a major political victory heading into the monthlong August recess. By the end of the day, however, liberals said they were reluctant to support the deal, which they said would weaken the option for a government health insurance program to compete with private insurers.

The back-and-forth over the deal Wednesday highlighted the deep divisions among House Democrats and the perilous political landscape facing the White House. It also signals that Mr. Obama likely would have to settle for considerably less than the sweeping universal health care plan he wants.

Four Democratic Blue Dogs on the House Energy and Commerce Committee reached an agreement with Chairman Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, to vote for the compromise, ending a lengthy deadlock and clearing the path for the bill to go to the House floor for a vote.

The key House changes would reduce the federal subsidies for lower-income families, exempt additional businesses from a requirement to offer insurance to their workers and support state-based health cooperatives in addition to the taxpayer-funded “public” insurance plan Mr. Obama favors, a Capitol Hill aide said.

Blue Dog lawmakers said the deal would also slice $100 billion off the 10-year, $1 trillion price tag for Obama plan.

Mr. Waxman has scheduled a markup session for Thursday morning, although part of the deal called for a House vote on the bill to be delayed until September at the earliest.

“I think people back home felt like we were moving way too quick on this, and they were right,” said Rep. Baron P. Hill of Indiana, one of the four Blue Dogs who agreed to the compromise. “We were able to slow this process down so we that we can get our arms around this piece of legislation.”

But liberals on the committee halted the bill’s movement late Wednesday. Many said the public option had been weakened by the Blue Dog proposal, and warned they weren’t automatic “yes” votes.

“All of us feel we have been held hostage,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat. “I think each member has to grapple with his or her conscience” on the revised bill.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, who added it was too soon to tell whether the party’s liberal wing would accept the deal.

Still, Mr. Obama and leading congressional Democrats hailed the Blue Dog agreement as much-needed progress after days of drift.

“Congress is closer than ever before in history to passing comprehensive health insurance reform,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said in a statement.

Mr. Obama, who held events in North Carolina and Virginia to rally popular support for his health care push, insisted he was not disappointed that Congress would not meet his earlier deadline to pass bills before the summer recess.

“We did give them a deadline and we sort of missed that deadline, but that’s OK,” Mr. Obama said. “We won’t even vote on it probably until the end of September or the middle of October.”

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