Liberals protest deal with Blue Dogs

House liberals have quickly rejected a healthcare compromise their leaders forged with centrist Blue Dogs, putting the deal on shaky ground only hours after it was announced.

"It's unacceptable," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "We're not going to vote for anything that doesn't have a robust public plan."

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The Progressive Caucus has 83 members. Members are circulating a letter for signatures protesting the deal.

Liberals are hoping to get 50 signatures on the letter, to make it clear they have the votes to defeat the biil.

"Fifty is our threshold," said Progressive Caucus co-chairman Raul Grijalva. "That'll kill anything."

Woolsey said liberals cannot accept that the public plan will not be linked to Medicare, and said subsidies have been cut to the point where the plan won't help the middle class.

The Blue Dog deal was made with Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who is also a member of the Progressive Caucus.

Aside from Waxman, there are five members of the Progressive Caucus on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is not enough Democratic votes to block a bill. But there are other members who are dissatisfied with the compromise, including three of the seven Blue Dogs who had been negotiating with Waxman, but did not join the deal.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), another supporter of a "robust public option," was more open to the compromise.

Capps, a member of the business-minded New Democrat Coalition, said it was too early to tell if she and other Democrats on the committee would deliver the rest of the votes to help the Blue Dog amendments pass -- despite Ross's insistence that additional votes would come from fellow Democrats, not Republicans.

"We need to be clear on what amendments were made," Capps said before rushing off to a meeting with Waxman and the Democrats on the committee.

But she didn't close the door on agreeing to support such broad changes as allowing healthcare "co-ops" to compete with both the government-run "public option" and private insurers.

"That's something we have to discuss," Capps said of the co-op proposal. "If it doesn't weaken the public option there may be support for it."

And there were also questions about how other leading Democrats would react to a series of sweeping changes that will affect the scope and shape of the bill -- namely Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), who helped write the bill that eventually stalled in Energy and Commerce.

"We're talking to them now," Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said before heading into a leadership meeting to speak to the two chairmen. "I think they're going to be fine."

This story was updated at 5:00 p.m.