House inches forward; Senate may scrap public option

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman said he hopes to restart work on healthcare legislation Wednesday after cobbling together the beginnings of a possible agreement with centrist Blue Dog Democrats.

Meanwhile, the AP reported Monday night that the Senate Finance Committee is close to striking a bipartisan compromise that does not include a so-called public option, a top priority of President Obama and House Democratic leaders. AP also reported that the Senate committee will not call for an employer healthcare mandate, which is included in the House measure.

Reps. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Mike Ross (D-Ark.) emerged from more than three hours of negotiations late Monday to say that the Blue Dogs were weighing an offer from Waxman. Blue Dogs have asked Waxman to get a cost estimate for the bill.

"The chairman has made an offer," said Ross, who is the lead Blue Dog on healthcare reform. "We have asked that he get a [Congressional Budget Office] score, that is, find out how much it would cost. We're going to review it and see if it's something we can accept."

Ross and Waxman would not discuss any specifics of the proposal. But Ross said it addresses all 10 of the concerns Blue Dogs have raised with the bill.

Waxman emerged from the negotiations saying, "I feel very good right now. I don't think failure is a reasonable option."

Ross is one of seven Blue Dog Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee who have threatened to block the bill because of concerns ranging from its cost to the burden it places on employers. The committee's drafting session has been postponed for a week while Waxman negotiates with them.

The seven Blue Dogs are expected to meet Tuesday morning with the rest of the 52-member coalition to discuss Waxman's offer.

Talks nearly collapsed in acrimony Friday as each side hurled accusations at the other. But late Friday, they agreed to keep negotiating. The House is scheduled to leave at the end of the week for its summer recess.

"This is the week for markup," Waxman said. "If we're going to do the bill out of committee, this is the week."

Earlier, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had emerged from the talks, saying there is no way for the lower chamber to meet its Friday deadline for a vote on healthcare.

"That clearly will not be possible at this time," Hoyer told reporters. He said the deadline can't be met because of procedural hurdles and promises leaders made to give lawmakers time to read the bill.

But he added, "We have other days available to us." He has previously said that the House could meet Saturday, Monday or Tuesday.