Waxman, Blue Dogs strike a deal

WAXMAN, BLUE DOGS STRIKE A DEAL…. It wasn’t easy, but House Democrats took a big step forward today on passing a health care reform bill. Roll Call reported about a half-hour ago:

House leaders, the White House and four Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee reached a deal Wednesday on a health care overhaul. The Energy panel will be resuming a markup of the measure at 4 p.m. with plans to vote on the bill by Friday, according to Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), head of the Blue Dog health care task force, said the deal would cut more than $100 billion from the Democratic health bill, increase exemptions for small businesses and prevent the public insurance option from basing reimbursements on Medicare rates.

The details are still a little sketchy on that last point, but it appears the Blue Dogs will let the public option remain in the House bill, so long as HHS negotiates rates with health care providers, as private insurers do. States will be permitted to craft non-profit co-ops, but Brian Beutler noted that they “would be in addition to the public option.”

A delayed schedule, however, is apparently part of the deal. Waxman’s Energy and Commerce Committee will be able to approve a reform bill this week, but the full House will not vote on reform until after the August recess.

The deal hasn’t been endorsed by the entire Blue Dog caucus — negotiations continue — but Waxman and the leadership doesn’t need all of them, at least not this week. Four Blue Dogs, including Ross and caucus co-chair Baron Hill of Indiana, endorsed today’s compromise, meaning there will be enough votes for reform to pass the committee and advance to the floor.

Details of the compromise are still coming together, but it appears the deal includes an exemption from an employer mandate for small-businesses with less than $500,000 in payroll. Brian added that policymakers are getting the $100 billion in savings “by lowering by one percent the rate at which people living between 300 and 400 percent of the poverty level will be subsidized to buy health care in insurance exchanges.”

For his part, Ross told reporters, “After two weeks of very long and intense negotiations, I’m proud to report that we’ve reached an agreement that will allow health care reform to move forward.” As for the post-recess vote, he added, “I am confident we’ll get health care reform done this year, but let’s not rush it.”