Two committees down, several hurdles to go

TWO COMMITTEES DOWN, SEVERAL HURDLES TO GO…. This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed its healthcare overhaul bill, becoming the first congressional committee to move the ball forward. Early this morning, a key House committee followed suit.

The House Ways and Means committee passed the House Democrats health care bill out of committee early Friday morning after a marathon markup that started Thursday morning.

The vote on the so-called “tri-committee bill” was 23-18, with three Democrats voting with all of the committee’s Republicans against the bill. The three Democrats voting against the bill were: Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, and John Tanner of Tennessee. Pomeroy and Tanner are blue dogs and Kind is a leader of another group of moderate Democrats, the “New Democrats.”

Two other House committees are still marking up the bill. The Education Labor Committee is expected to vote Friday. But a key challenge will come next week at the Energy and Commerce Committee where a group of blue dogs who oppose the bill could block it.

The Ways and Means package financed health care reform through a new surtax on the wealthy, which has drawn fire from conservatives in both chambers (and in both parties).

As for the Blue Dogs, who may yet kill the bill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, these conservative Dems are threatening to derail the entire reform effort based on concerns that “the bill (a) costs too much overall and (b) will increase the deficit. And their proposed solutions to this are to (a) increase the cost of the bill by neutering the public plan and (b) decrease the quantity of revenue by fiddling with the employer mandate.”

And what’s the latest from the Senate? There was some talk yesterday that Max Baucus was close to a deal to make conservative Republican senators happy, and that an announcement could come as early as last night. That, apparently, didn’t come together. Baucus said he’d made progress satisfying the concerns of the minority party’s members, and would renew negotiations on Monday. He added, without explanation, that health care reform “must be bipartisan.”

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, meanwhile, continues to talk to “centrists” in both parties about slowing the process down, and is reportedly preparing a letter to the Senate leadership that will dismiss the importance of a pre-recess August deadline. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is, not surprisingly, saying the same thing.