- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

Conservative Blue Dog Democrats said Friday afternoon that negotiations with House leaders fell apart, setting the stage for a messy House battle over President Obama’s health care reform plans.

Blue Dogs said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Harry A. Waxman took previous agreements to cut costs over time off the table.

But Mr. Waxman said Blue Dogs were the ones who gave up.

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“It pretty much fell apart,” said Rep. Mike Ross, Arkansas Democrat and lead negotiator for the Blue Dogs. “That leaves the chairman with not enough votes to get the bill out of committee.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Waxman threatened to bypass his own committee — the third and final one with jurisdiction over the houses measure — to get the bill to the House floor. The widely reported statement ratched up the intensity of the negotiations, Blue Dogs said.

The group, which hold seven seats on the committee, have threatened to vote against the bill in Mr. Waxman’s committee, effectively killing it.

“We’re not going to let them empower the Republicans to control the committee,” said Mr. Waxman, California Democrat.

Blue Dogs’ top concerns include establishing a public insurance option based on Medicare rates, which are lower than private plans, as well as evening the playing filed for Medicare rates paid to doctors and hospitals that are usually higher in urban areas versus rural.

House leaders plan to announce two studies of Medicare rate reimbursement disparities as well as outcome-based medicine. The Medicare study would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to set Medicare rates based on geographic areas.

Many Blue Dogs are from rural areas that they say are reimbursed at lower rates than other parts of the country.

Mr. Waxman said early in the day that he expected the Blue Dogs to agree to the new studies, but that he’s prepared to allow House leaders to bypass his own committee to get the bill to the floor of the House.

“I don’t see any other alternative,” Mr. Waxman said.

House Democrats met until late Thursday evening negotiating the deal, said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and chairman of the Education and Labor committee. His committee, as well as the Ways and Means committee, have already passed their portions of the bill.

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