By Jared Allen - 07/29/09 12:08 PM EDT
The Energy and Commerce Committee will resume its markup of healthcare legislation Wednesday afternoon under a deal between Blue Dogs and House leaders, but there will be no floor vote on the legislation before August.
Delaying a vote until after August was a key demand of the Blue Dogs, along with reducing the cost of the bill by $100 billion and allowing states to create health "co-ops" that would compete with the government-run "public option" and private insurers.
"We cut the cost of the bill, delayed a floor vote and ensured that the public option will not be forced on anyone," said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) who has led the negotiations for the Blue Dogs. "Members will have time to go home to talk to their constituents and actually read the bill."
Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he plans to finish the markup by Friday, the day Congress is scheduled to adjourn.
"That is my expectation and hope," Waxman said.
Later on Wednesday, Waxman emerged from a meeting of the Democrats on his committee and said the committee would not vote Wednesday night. Instead, he said, the committee Democrats would meet to discuss the Blue Dog deal.
"It's more important to let members ask questions, raise concerns," Waxman said.
The deal split the seven Blue Dogs who had been threatening to block the bill. Waxman struck the deal with only four.
"We never expected it to be 100 percent," Ross said. "It's hard to get unanimity around here to name a post office."
Ross joined with Reps. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Zack Space (D-Ohio). The three who did not agree to the deal are Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Charlie Melancon (D-La.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah).
To win the support of the four Blue Dogs, Waxman agreed to loosen the employer mandate so that it covers businesses with payrolls of $500,000 or more, instead of $400,000. Rates on the "public option" will not be tied to Medicare, but negotiated separately, as private insurers do.
By reducing the cost by $100 billion, the total price tag of the bill should be brought under $1 trillion.
Ross said the Blue Dog amendments will be considered tonight at the markup. If they don't pass, the Blue Dogs will withdraw their support.
Ross also said he expects the income surtax on the wealthy to be replaced with another kind of tax before the bill comes to the floor. But that was not part of the negotiations because it is not under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) said she believes the Blue Dogs have scored a major victory by getting leaders to back away from their goal of having the House vote on a healthcare bill before members return home for the month of August.
“We’ve achieved the victory of not having a vote on the House floor that will give every member a chance to digest what’s in the bill, whether it’s in a markup that occurs in Energy and Commerce or whether it’s as the bill exists right now,” she said. “It is because of the Blue Dog Coalition that there is no floor vote before the August break.”
This story was updated at 5:10 p.m.