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The Progressive Health Care Bloc

July 30, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

We’ve all been hearing for weeks about the health care bill obstructionism from the conservative Blue Dogs Democrats. But the only reason that story has been so prominent in the media is that in the Energy and Commerce Committee where the bill is now, the Blue Dogs happen to have the numbers to block it. Outside of that committee, the Blue Dogs are just one of several groups within the Democrats with the numbers to shut down the health care reform debate if they so choose.

The fact of the matter is that when you shift legislation over to the right to satisfy conservatives, you lose liberal votes on the left. In this case, the deal Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman [D, CA-30] Democrat brokered with the Blue Dogs appears to be losing more votes for the bill off to the left than it has gained. The deal was designed to satisfy the 40 Blue Dogs who outlined their concerns with the bill in a letter three weeks ago. We know that only 4 of the 7 Blue Dogs on the E&C Committee actually agreed to the deal, so it’s likely that outside of the committee, the deal would win the support of, say, 30 Blue Dogs total.

At this point, 57 progressive House Democrats have already signed a letter calling the deal unacceptable and vowing to vote against it on the floor. It takes 218 votes to pass a bill in the House. With 256 total Democrats in the House, the progressives already have way more support than they need to kill the Waxman-Blue Dog bill.

Here’s the text of the letter:

Dear Madame Speaker, Chairman Waxman, Chairman Rangel, and Chairman Miller:

We write to voice our opposition to the negotiated health care reform agreement under consideration in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

We regard the agreement reached by Chairman Waxman and several Blue Dog members of the Committee as fundamentally unacceptable. This agreement is not a step forward toward a good health care bill, but a large step backwards. Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates – not negotiated rates – is unacceptable. It would ensure higher costs for the public plan, and would do nothing to achieve the goal of “keeping insurance companies honest,” and their rates down.

To offset the increased costs incurred by adopting the provisions advocated by the Blue Dog members of the Committee, the agreement would reduce subsidies to low- and middle-income families, requiring them to pay a larger portion of their income for insurance premiums, and would impose an unfunded mandate on the states to pay for what were to have been Federal costs.

In short, this agreement will result in the public, both as insurance purchasers and as taxpayers, paying ever higher rates to insurance companies.

We simply cannot vote for such a proposal.

…Download a .pdf of the letter to see all signatories.

Now, it very well may be the case that the Democratic leadership brokered the deal with the Blue Dogs thinking that once the bill is out of the E&C Committee, they could undue the changes during the process of reconciling it with the other two House committee-passed versions of the bill. The other two versions of the bill contain strong public option plans tied to Medicare rates, and as Chris Bowers at Open Left points out, the Rules Committee, which will be reconciling the three versions, is relatively progressive. If it does go that way, the progressives’ letter would be effectively moot.

The main point here, though, is that the Blue Dogs don’t have as much control over the process of passing a health care bill as it has seemed as of late They are flexing their muscles in the one committee with jurisdiction over the bill that they can. But, in reality, the Progressive Caucus is still the biggest single non-party caucus in the House and it appears that they have already had about as much compromising on health care reform as they can take.

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