Centrist Dems unite to fight left on health

The House's two most conservative caucuses, the Blue Dogs and New Democrats, are banding together to come up with shared principles on healthcare and counter a process many see skewing to the left.

The two groups, which combined have 131 members — more than half the House Democratic Caucus — have been holding meetings to see where they can agree on a healthcare plan.

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"We're looking at things like what the structure of a public plan would look like," said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.).

Democratic leaders have taken note. Kind said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called a meeting with New Democrats and Blue Dogs in her office Wednesday to discuss healthcare. The results of that meeting were not known at press time.

There is concern among centrists in the caucus that the draft bill, to be released Friday, will reflect some of the more liberal ideas in the caucus, although leadership has already rejected the idea of a single-payer system. It is being put together by the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees.

"You have a bunch of crazy liberal chairs and their crazy liberal staffers, and they want to lay down a marker," said a senior Democratic aide.

The two caucuses have already put out separate written principles on healthcare that are similar, expressing reservations about a public option and opposing a "Medicare-like" system.

Where they differ is on the Blue Dogs' demand that the public option should be a last resort, kicking in only if reforms fail to achieve cost savings and there isn't enough competition. New Democrats have made no such request.

"Their principles mirror ours, except for the trigger," said an aide to a Blue Dog member active in the health debate.

Both groups say they're concerned about a public plan, and specifically don't want it to look like Medicare, which is exactly what the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus are pushing for.

Both sets of principles are geared toward making sure any public plan won't gain a competitive advantage over private insurance plans.

The 69-member Progressive Caucus threatened that its members will vote against healthcare legislation if it doesn't have a "robust public plan."