Talks with Blue Dogs collapse

TALKS WITH BLUE DOGS COLLAPSE…. Rep. Mike Ross (D) of Arkansas, the point person on health care for the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt earlier that Congress “will meet the president’s goal of passing meaningful and substantive health-care reform” this year.

As of this afternoon, he’s not saying that anymore.

Closed-door negotiations over health care reform between House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and conservative Blue Dog Democrats broke down Friday afternoon and appeared dead.

A visibly angry Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the Blue Dog health care task force chairman, said Waxman reneged on deals the two sides had previously agreed on: an independent Medicare commission and adopting Senate language on a public insurance option. He also said Waxman’s threats to bring the bill straight to the floor — and bypass a markup in Energy and Commerce — were not helpful.

“We are actually trying to save the bill and we are trying to save our party,” Ross said after the meeting ended.

Perhaps the two sides can find some additional areas of agreement in their next meeting? That’s unlikely — Ross said today’s discussion “will be the last meeting we have.”

House Democratic leaders certainly made an effort to work with the conservative Democrats on some kind of solution. Blue Dog members, most notably Ross, have spent much of the last couple of weeks in lengthy negotiations, trying to work out deals with the White House, the leadership, and Waxman. As recently as Wednesday, Ross heralded a “significant breakthrough” thanks to administration officials’ efforts on MedPac. As recently as this morning, there was anothersignificant breakthrough” on regional Medicare disparities.

But after many hours of talks, the Blue Dogs wanted to move the legislation even further to the right, and Waxman and Democratic leaders simply could go as far as the conservatives insisted. Blue Dogs, Waxman said, wanted to “eviscerate” the reform bill.

So, what happens next? At this point, it seems likely the leadership will simply bring the tri-committee bill to the floor, bypassing the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Blue Dog Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) of Louisiana, who was reportedly livid this afternoon, said 40 to 45 conservative Dems would oppose health care reform — enough to defeat the bill — and said Democratic leaders will “find out they have more problems with the Blue Dogs.”

Stay tuned.