As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Compromise In The Other Direction

While the deal reached between Henry Waxman and a core group of Blue Dog Democrats on the health care bill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee was reported as offering modest concessions, in truth the subsidies would have really dried up for families making between 300-400% of federal poverty level. Progressives revolted, mainly because the subsidy climb-downs attack the larger idea of offering affordable health insurance for everyone, the central goal of the program. So they revolted, and Waxman had to re-bargain with everyone to get a decent compromise of the compromise.

Liberals and a small core of conservative Democrats set aside long-standing ideological differences early Friday to cut a deal that should allow the House Energy and Commerce Committee to approve a sweeping health care bill, breaking a two-week deadlock that threatened President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority.

Blue Dog Democrats on the committee, who are the linchpin in the House health care debate, agreed to allow their liberal colleagues to cut billions from existing government-funded health care programs in order to restore some $50 billion to $65 billion in subsidies set aside in the bill to help middle-income families purchase coverage.

This final agreement should clear the way for committee passage later today. Energy and Commerce is the last of the three House committees to consider the bill, so passage will put the package in the hands of party leaders for a titanic fight when Congress returns in the fall over the government's role in health care [...]

The Blue Dogs preserved one of their main objectives: de-coupling the so-called public plans from Medicare, a change that gives health care providers the right to negotiate payments with the government.

Those rates were only scheduled for the first three years anyhow. My guess is that will be returned when the House bills get merged from all three committees in September, especially if progressives keep up the pressure. What's important now is to get the Energy and Commerce bill out of committee.

Let's understand how this happened. Blue Dogs held out for a deal. Progressives, instead of taking it to get the larger goal, revolted and got 57 names on a letter vowing not to support any Blue Dog compromise. The Blue Dogs, who came into this wanting to kill the public plan option, ending up voting it out of committee in Energy and Commerce and allowing for expanded subsidies. And progressives are STILL not satisfied, as it should be, because Medicare rates and providers should be tied to the public plan over its entire lifespan, and the plan (and the insurance exchange) should be available to everyone regardless of employer.

Moreover, the liberals also expressed a political concern, saying House leaders had compromised too early. “Under the agreement, private insurers are coming off unscathed,” said Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont.

He added, “They do quite well — too well, frankly.”

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York, said, “The public plan was eviscerated” under the deal announced Wednesday to get the bill moving again in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Mr. Engel was less than enthusiastic about the resulting legislation. “It’s not a terrible bill,” he said, “but it’s not what I had hoped for.”

There was an abortion policy amendment in the committee that tries to split the difference by affirming that insurers "would not be required or forbidden to cover abortion." I'd prefer that the public plan be accorded the same benefits toward the most widely used outpatient procedure in America that 90% of all private plans cover, and we'll see where that debate goes.

Also hurting the Blue Dogs' cause is this WaPo front-pager, almost unquestionably meant to coincide with progressive discontent over the compromise, showing the amount of health industry money these so-called fiscal conservatives are swimming in.

The roiling debate about health-care reform has been a boon to the political fortunes of Ross and 51 other members of the Blue Dog Coalition, who have become key brokers in shaping legislation in the House. Objections from the group resulted in a compromise bill announced this week that includes higher payments for rural providers and softens a public insurance option that industry groups object to. The deal also would allow states to set up nonprofit cooperatives to offer coverage, a Republican-generated idea that insurers favor as an alternative to a public insurance option.

At the same time, the group has set a record pace for fundraising this year through its political action committee, surpassing other congressional leadership PACs in collecting more than $1.1 million through June. More than half the money came from the health-care, insurance and financial services industries, marking a notable surge in donations from those sectors compared with earlier years, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.

A look at career contribution patterns also shows that typical Blue Dogs receive significantly more money -- about 25 percent -- from the health-care and insurance sectors than other Democrats, putting them closer to Republicans in attracting industry support.

Most of the major corporations and trade groups in those sectors are regular contributors to the Blue Dog PAC. They include drugmakers such as Pfizer and Novartis; insurers such as WellPoint and Northwestern Mutual Life; and industry organizations such as America's Health Insurance Plans. The American Medical Association also has been one of the top contributors to individual Blue Dog members over the past 20 years.

Progressives are running the absolute right game in the House, forcing compromises in their direction and making sure they will be heard in this debate. Unfortunately, on the other side of the Capitol, you have health care policy literally in the hands of Chuck Grassley, who is promising his party he won't strike a deal on any bill with Democrats while SITTING IN ON MEETINGS AIMED AT STRIKING A DEAL in the Senate Finance Committee. The unicameral legislature concept is looking better and better every day.

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