Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) says there is "no alternative" but to have healthcare legislation bypass his Energy and Commerce Committee if Blue Dog Democrats don't accept a deal worked out Friday.
Waxman is now playing a game of legislative chicken with the Blue Dogs. He's hoping the inclusion of a study on Medicare reimbursement rates in the healthcare overhaul will be enough to placate the centrist Democrats, who say the government program short-changes hospitals and physicians in their rural districts.
"I won't allow them to hand over control of our committee to Republicans," Waxman told reporters.
"I don’t see what other alternative we have, because we're not going to let them empower Republicans on the committee."
The reimbursement rates are important to the healthcare bill, because the government-run "public option" would be based on Medicare.
The study would produce recommendations that Congress could vote up or down, in a manner comparable to the military base-closure process.
The "rural disparity" issue is one of the main issues raised by the seven Blue Dogs blocking consideration in the Energy and Commerce Committee. But it's not the only one. Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the point man for the seven, has often said there's a list of at least 10 issues. Another problem is that they feel the employer mandate puts too much a burden on small business.
Energy and Commerce Democrats are expected to meet privately at 2 p.m. to discuss the next steps for the bill. Waxman has also said he expects to meet with Blue Dogs today.
Waxman's committee skipped its "markup" drafting sessions again Friday. Waxman said the committee will not meet Saturday, an option some committee members said was being contemplated.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she doesn't "want" to skip the markup. But she has also repeatedly said the bill is on schedule.
Democratic critics of the bill have warned that the bill doesn't have enough votes to pass on the floor, and say an end-run around the committee would galvanize opposition among centrists.
"That would clearly ruffle some feathers," said an aide to a Blue Dog lawmaker.
Waxman has been meeting for days with a group of seven Energy and Commerce Blue Dogs who have vowed to block the bill from passing their committee. Those Blue Dogs still have disagreements over regional Medicare reimbursement disparities and insufficient health care savings.
At the same time, Pelosi has been adamant, even as recently as Thursday morning, that she has the votes to pass the bill on the floor.
This article was updated at 12:30 p.m. and 1:28 p.m.