The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday evening voted 31-28 for a health-care reform plan that uses a relatively robust “public option” and other strategies to insure the nearly 50 million Americans who currently lack health-care coverage.
The plan, which would cost $1 trillion over ten years, would be financed by controlling Medicare and Medicaid costs and by taxing businesses and the wealthiest Americans.
With the House breaking for its August recess, the roughly 1,000-page Energy and Commerce plan will become an improtant focus of an intense month of grassroots campaigning for reform and high-stakes lobbying against it.
The tenuous nature of the reform push was highlighted by the extraordinary wrangling in the committee late Friday.
Committee chair Henry Waxman, D-California, had to scramble to win support for the measure from progressive Democrats on the committee, after he cut a deal with conservative “Blue Dogs” who wanted to undermine existing protections for low- and moderate-income Americans.
Waxman did this by agreeing to provisions that place more demands on businesses to cover their employees while expanding support Medicaid programs that aid the poor. He also got House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to agree to allow a full House vote on the single-payer reform that more than 85 House Democrats have endorsed.
Congressman Anthony Weiner, D-New York, worked with Waxman to get the deal on single-payer and declared a sort of victory Friday, saying that: “Single-payer is a better plan and now it is on center stage. Americans have a clear choice. Their Member of Congress will have a simpler, less expensive and smarter bill to choose. I am thrilled that the Speaker is giving us that choice.”
Even if single-payer is not likely to carry the day, its on the table.
And that’s an indication of the extent to which House leaders had to move to keep progressives on board.
That movement did not please more conservative Democrats.
Five of them voted with the Energy and Commerce Committee’s 23 Republicans to block the bill Waxman advanced, which includes a relatively robust public option. The Democrats who voted with the “party of no” were all conservatives or moderates who thought the measure was too progressive: Representatives Rick Boucher of Virginia, Bart Stupak of Michigan, Jim Matheson of Utah, John Barrow of Georgia and Charles Melancon of Louisiana.