Baby steps

BABY STEPS…. The House Energy and Commerce Committee was scheduled to consider health care reform yesterday, but the committee’s chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), pushed off the vote. Dems have a 36-23 edge in the committee, but Waxman has seven Blue Dogs, and their opposition to reform would give the GOP enough votes to prevail.

So, instead of a vote, committee Democrats went to the White House for a chat. By all accounts, it went relatively well.

Moderate House Democrats and a key committee chairman emerged from a three-hour meeting at the White House on Tuesday with a tentative agreement to give an outside panel — rather than Congress — the power to make cuts to government-financed health care programs.

OMB Director Peter Orszag called it “probably the most important piece that can be added” to the health care bill in the House, and the deal between the Blue Dog Coalition and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was the first positive development Democratic Party leaders could claim since the American Medical Association endorsed their bill last week.

Rep. Mike Ross (D) of Arkansas, the Blue Dogs’ point man on health care, called the MedPAC agreement a “significant breakthrough” and evidence that policymakers are “making progress.” He added, however, “[W]e’ve got a long way to go.”

Dems on the Energy and Commerce Committee will continue talking today, but probably won’t resume formal work on the bill until tomorrow, making the pre-recess deadline that much more of a challenge, though Speaker Pelosi told her caucus yesterday the chamber is still on track. She added that “this is the biggest thing we will do in our lives.”

Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the chamber, suggested action on the House floor is likely July 29, a week from today.

As for the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said the panel had made “significant progress” on a bipartisan proposal, No word, though, on if/when we’ll actually see a Finance bill.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.