Agreement to keep seeking agreement

AGREEMENT TO KEEP SEEKING AGREEMENT…. Talks between House Democratic leaders and the conservative Blue Dog Democratic caucus were on. Then they were off. Then they were on again. How did things wrap on the Hill by the time lawmakers headed home last night? The various players came to an agreement — to keep talking.

“The chairman and I would like to retract some of the things that we said earlier today,” Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the chairman of the Blue Dog healthcare task force said while standing beside Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) after the two emerged from an emergency meeting of the Democrats on the committee.

“Our group of seven has always believed that we want to be a constructive part of the legislative process,” Ross said. “Earlier today it appeared that those negotiations had reached a standstill. The chairman has now invited us to sit back down with him again and continue those negotiations.

“Talks are back on,” Ross added.

What’s more, Waxman apologized to Ross in front of a group of reporters, a gesture that apparently helped calm the waters. The committee chairman said, “We’ve had some rough edges as we try to deal with some of these issues. But I think that our colleagues have pulled us both back and said, ‘Let’s all take a deep breath.’ Nothing’s irreconcilable, unless you decide its irreconcilable.”

Ross emerged from the meeting and said, “We’re just talking, and that’s a good thing.” The Blue Dog’s health care point man added, “Everything that was off the table a couple of hours ago is now back on the table.”

That last point was not necessarily encouraging to the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Eight of its members wrote to the leadership to say they won’t tolerate a reform package that weakens or eliminates a public option.

As for the Senate, President Obama met with Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) yesterday, but there was no word on whether the Finance Committee is any closer to moving forward.